The war between Donald Trump and the CIA continues. Yesterday, Trump tweeted
The "Intelligence" briefing on so-called "Russian hacking" was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 4, 2017
To which the CIA responded… or rather didn’t:
A spokesman for the director of national intelligence declined to comment on Mr. Trump’s claim. Senior administration officials disputed it, saying that no meeting had been scheduled for Tuesday.
It was not clear whether a meeting to discuss the hacking had been scheduled for Tuesday or, if so, why it did not occur. But Mr. Trump’s insinuation was that intelligence officials were intentionally withholding information from him. For weeks, he has dismissed their findings and strongly criticized the intelligence agencies, saying they cannot be trusted because they were convinced, incorrectly, that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before the United States’ 2003 invasion.
The decision by Mr. Comey and Mr. Clapper to brief Mr. Trump in person appears to be an effort to show him how seriously they take their conclusions that the Russian government was behind the hacking of Democratic officials before the election.
Quite honestly, one doesn’t know who to believe here, Trump, who is possessed of an active fantasy life, or unnamed “senior officials” in the most corrupt and dishonest White House since Warren G. Harding. (I certainly don’t believe anything Julian Assange has ever said.)
And actually, the last paragraph is simply the New York Times rewriting history. This is not about whether or not the Russians hacked the DNC… more on that in a second… but rather it is about the claim made by Brennan that the hack and subsequent leaks were designed to aid Donald Trump. Here the theory is that the actual emails of DNC officials, and later John Podesta, proved them to be so odious that no sane person would vote for them… and yet, Hillary won the popular vote. But the argument now has been reduced to it being a symbol of patriotism to take every CIA utterance as gospel despite their actual track record. (As late as 1989 the CIA was forecasting 3% annual GDP growth for the USSR into the future. The only reason they didn’t do the same in 1990 was that the Cold War had effectively ended.)
Before I go further here, let me say I have no idea what evidence the CIA has of Russian involvement because I don’t know the relationship between the recently released FBI/DHS report on the hacking. IF, I say again IF, that report plays any part in the Intelligence Community analysis of the origins and intentions of the hackers then there is a huge problem. More and more of the cybersecurity community is saying the report is wildly inaccurate, even controlling for the fact that a portion of the complaints are actually CEO’s puffing up their own profile at the expense of the FBI and DHS it is unusual to see this many people be this negative about a major report especially when they agree with the premise:
[Robert Lee, a former Air Force cyberwarfare officer and cybersecurity fellow at New America] is much less skeptical of the White House, calling the accusations against the Russian government “a strong and accurate statement.” But he highlights extensive sloppy mistakes and limited practical data in the Grizzly Steppe report. A list of names used to identify hacking campaigns, such as APT28 and COZYBEAR, inexplicably mingles in the names of both malware tools and capabilities. Data intended to help network administrators block attacks is missing vital IP addresses and attack timelines.
Lee also says descriptions of the techniques of the groups profiled is “very generic,” and of little use for network defense. He concludes that Grizzly Steppe “seems like a very rushed report,” and speculates that any useful data was removed during the review and approval process.
Redacting sensitive information, I understand. Making middle school errors in the most high profile public report either agency is likely to offer for a while? That’s harder to understand. Plus the questions about this report naturally feed into the CIA analysis. If the CIA is relying in any part of the FBI/DHS investigative effort, then their analysis is can be no better than the underlying reports.
Be all that as it may, yesterday former Obama White House apparatchik and current CIA Director John Brennan was on PBS Newshour to talk about the sturm und drang between Trump and the intelligence community. Judy Woodruff brings up US involvement in Syria and we get this:
JUDY WOODRUFF: But could the situation in Syria have been better by any degree had the U.S. gotten more involved?
JOHN BRENNAN: You know, 20/20 hindsight is quite — you know, it’s illuminating, looking at it in the rear-view mirror in terms of what could have happened, based on the things that did happen.
There has been an unfortunate turn of events over the last several years. When the Syrian revolution started, the Arab spring, there was no such thing as ISIL. ISIL was al-Qaida in Iraq and it was just less than 1,000 individuals. There was a wave then of developments inside of Syria and Iraq that resulted in current-day Syria.
No one could have envisioned that, in terms of the series of events that took place. So, do we lament what has happened in Syria? Absolutely. If we had a chance to do it over again, would there have been some adjustments and changes? I can’t speak for policy-makers. I’m not a policy-maker.
But when I look back, in light of the way things evolved, I think that there could have been some adjustments to some of the policies, not just by the United States, but by other countries, in order to address this question earlier or, and not allow the ISILs and the Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaidas to gain momentum and steam and taking advantage of the destruction of that country.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, not getting involved turns out to be something that’s regretted?
JOHN BRENNAN: Well, I think the way that the situation unfolded was — is regrettable.
Regrettable? Well, that is certainly one word to use for an event that has killed over 400,000 people and made over 2 million refugees in a nation of 22 million. Genocide is another word that comes to mind.
This is simply incredible. Who did Brennan think we were running arms to? Is his imagination so shriveled that he can’t come up with a single example of where a popular uprising against an unpopular government in an Arab country has suddenly been swallowed whole by al Qaeda? Like the nationalist insurgency in Iraq against US forces that started in late 2003 and quickly became al Qaeda dominated. It wasn’t like these developments crept up on Brennan. The al Nusra Front was founded in January 2012. By November, David Ignatius was writing a Washington Post article titled Al-Qaeda affiliate playing larger role in Syria rebellion
Syrian opposition leaders report an alarming growth within their ranks of fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra, an extremist group linked to al-Qaeda.
The Jabhat group now has somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 fighters, according to officials of an non-governmental organization that represents the more moderate wing of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). They say that the al-Qaeda affiliate now accounts for 7.5 percent to 9 percent of the Free Syrian Army’s total fighters, up sharply from an estimated 3 percent three months ago and 1 percent at the beginning of the year.
The extremist group is growing in part because it has been the most aggressive and successful arm of the rebel force. “From the reports we get from the doctors, most of the injured and dead FSA are Jabhat al-Nusra, due to their courage and [the fact they are] always at the front line,” said a message sent today to the State Department by the moderate Free Syrian Army representatives, warning of the extremists’ rise.
More to the point, the stated objective of the United States in Syria was to get rid of Bashar Assad. This, of course, is after Hillary Clinton proclaimed him to be a reformer.
President Obama on Thursday for the first time explicitly called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, a symbolically significant step intended to ratchet up pressure on the government five months after the start of the uprising in that country.
Where was Brennan when the Muslim Brotherhood took over Egypt after Mubarak was ousted? Was Brennan in a coma when we overthrew Qaddafi and the Benghazi consulate was sacked and four Americans, including our ambassador, were slaughtered? Did he think it was difficult to predict what the nature of that successor regime would be? Did he imagine that Mohammed al-Jeffersoni and Abdul al-Hamilitoni were waiting in the wings? What, precisely, was difficult to predict about the course of the civil war Obama set off in Syria regardless of the outcome?
The only way Breenan could not have had a very strong inkling of how this movie would end would be if he was shaping his analysis to fit the policy of the Obama-Clinton-Rice-Power axis which was that dictators could be overthrown cheaply and in fairly large numbers by fomenting popular revolts. And that, by the way, is a perfectly good motive for his statements on Russian involvement in the US election.
I don’t know, for a fact, who pillaged the DNC server and conned a Hillary Clinton IT tech into telling John Podesta to fall for a spearphishing scam. I certainly wouldn’t be shocked to discover the Kremlin involved. That said, right now the evidence boils down to a terribly flawed FBI report and a Barack Obama political appointee saying “trust me, ya gotta trust me.” I am a citizen, not a subject or a stooge. Show the evidence and let us evaluate it. But skepticism of CIA claims is not now, nor has it ever been, treason or taking sides with the enemy. It is our duty.