What's Behind Time Magazine's Putin Demonizing?
By David Swanson / Let’s Try Democracy
“Russia Wants to Undermine Faith in the U.S. Election. Don’t Fall For It.” Thus reads the cover of Time magazine with a photo of Vladimir Putin on the cover staring at me from shelves as I sit in an airport. Genuinely curious, I check out Massimo Calabresi‘s article online.
Of course, U.S. elections are almost completely unverifiable and do not even pretend to meet international standards. Jimmy Carter doesn’t even try to monitor them because there’s no way to do it. Much voting is done on machines that simply must be trusted on faith. Whether they accurately count the votes entered is simply unknowable, and reason to wonder is fueled by the machines’ frequently changing a vote visibly just as it’s cast, and by the ease with which people have been able to hack the machines. Never mind all the problems with registration, intimidation, inconvenience, discrimination, etc.
We should undermine our own faith in the U.S. election system. I’d include in that the financial corruption, gerrymandering, etc., but here I’m just referring to the counting of votes. Then we should repair it! Is Russia helpfully pointing out the problem to us? Not that I’ve seen. But the Russia-did-it stories that were used to bury the DNC-rigged-its-primary stories rather shockingly blurted out in major corporate U.S. media what I’ve just been saying. For a while it seemed acceptable to be aware that U.S. elections are faith-based as long as it helps build up hostility with Russia. Now, however, we’re being told of our duty to remain firm in our faith. Time says:
“The leaders of the U.S. government, including the President and his top national-security advisers, face an unprecedented dilemma. Since the spring, U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement agencies have seen mounting evidence of an active Russian influence operation targeting the 2016 presidential election.”
Why the “top national-security advisers”? That’s a euphemism for war counselors. How do they come into this? And where is the evidence, mounting or otherwise?
“It is very unlikely the Russians could sway the actual vote count, because our election infrastructure is decentralized and voting machines are not accessible from the Internet.”
Of the 50 states into which the vote counting is “decentralized” there are only a handful the U.S. media will pay much attention to. Those “swing states” are the ones a hacker would hack. And here’s an interesting Washington Post article I recommend to the editors of Time: “More than 30 states offer online voting, but experts warn it isn’t secure.”
“But they can sow disruption and instability up to, and on, Election Day, more than a dozen senior U.S. officials tell TIME, undermining faith in the result and in democracy itself.”
Democracy itself? Egad! Those commies must be against democracy. Perhaps they even hate capitalism! How many of those senior officials have names? Is “senior” in this case a polite way of saying “extremely elderly”? Come on! Nobody has faith in U.S. democracy. That’s undermined every day by the U.S. government, as Time’s own pollsters are perfectly aware. Most U.S. residents believe their government is broken, and they’re perfectly right. Russia’s government could use a lot of improvements too. But only one of the two is building missile bases and engaging in military “exercises” on the other one’s border.
“The question, debated at multiple meetings at the White House, is how aggressively to respond to the Russian operation. Publicly naming and shaming the Russians and describing what the intelligence community knows about their activities would help Americans understand and respond prudently to any disruptions that might take place between now and the close of the polls.”
Gee, there’s an idea. If only there were a journalist in the building!
“Senior Justice Department officials have argued in favor of calling out the Russians, and that position has been echoed forcefully outside of government by lawmakers and former top national-security officials from both political parties.”
Wait, don’t tell me, are these the same guys who sincerely wanted to tell us where the Weapons of Mass Destruction were in Iraq?
“Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. The President and several of his closest national-security advisers are concerned about the danger of a confrontation in the new and ungoverned world of cyberspace, and they argue that while the U.S. has powerful offensive and defensive capabilities there, an escalating confrontation carries significant risks.”
That’s right! Hey, they know best. Accusing Russia without any evidence shouldn’t offend anybody. The Russian government should be grateful. But presenting evidence and seeking to uphold the law, truth, and perhaps even reconciliation? Only reckless subversives would suggest such lunacy!
“National Security Council officials warn that our critical infrastructure–including the electricity grid, transportation sector and energy networks–is vulnerable to first strikes; others say attacks on private companies, stock exchanges and the media could affect the economy.”
Is there some nation whose infrastructure is not vulnerable to first strikes? Is the blurring of computer hacking and bomb dropping even conscious anymore?
“Senior intelligence officials even worry about Russia exposing U.S. espionage operations in retaliation.”
Well, if Russia can expose them, exactly what purpose are they currently serving? And what of any of this has Russia actually threatened? If I “worry about” Henry Kissinger streaking Fifth Avenue will Time run that story?
“And while U.S. officials have ‘high confidence’ that Russia is behind what they describe as a major influence operation, senior U.S. officials tell TIME, their evidence would not yet stand up in court.”
Mid-article, you’ll notice, we’ve dropped from the statement of fact on the cover of a magazine displayed everywhere in a nation of people who hardly read, to a statement of possibility.
“And so with five weeks to go, the White House is, for now, letting events unfold. On one side, U.S. law-enforcement agencies are scrambling to uncover the extent of the Russian operation, counter it and harden the country’s election infrastructure. On the other, a murky network of Russian hackers and their associates is stepping up the pace of leaks of stolen documents designed to affect public opinion and give the impression that the election is vulnerable, including emails from the computers of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).”
Not those emails that added so authoritatively to our knowledge that the DNC had rigged its own primary? Not those emails? Surely if it were those emails you’d mention their contents, not just an evidence-free claim as to who leaked them?
“Meanwhile, the FBI alerted all 50 states to the danger in mid-August, and the states have delivered evidence of a ‘significant’ number of new intrusions into their election systems that the bureau and their colleagues at the Department of Homeland Security ‘are still trying to understand,’ a department official tells TIME.”
Wait, I thought it was all offline and decentralized? Are all these intrusions harmless because they might be by non-Russians? Or is it only in the scenario in which they are acts of the Russian government that we should pay no attention to the uselessness of the lousy vote-counting machines? Or should we just not worry in either case, even while really really — you know — worrying?
“All of which makes Donald Trump’s repeated insertion of himself into the U.S.-Russia story all the more startling. Trump has praised Putin during the campaign, and at the first presidential debate, on Sept. 26, he said it wasn’t clear the Russians were behind the DNC hack.”
Time said the same thing three paragraphs back. Perhaps the real sin here is praising Putin, eh? But Trump is praising Putin for violating people’s rights, not for being a designated enemy of Time magazine and the government for which it serves as a stenographer.
“But the U.S. intelligence community has ‘high confidence’ that Russian intelligence services were in fact responsible, multiple intelligence and national security officials tell TIME.”
That’s impressive. How many of them have names?
“Trump was informed of that assessment during a recent classified intelligence briefing, a U.S. official familiar with the matter tells TIME. ‘I do not comment on information I receive in intelligence briefings, however, nobody knows with definitive certainty that this was in fact Russia,’ Trump told TIME in a statement. ‘It may be, but it may also be China, another country or individual.'”
Is that not indiputably accurate?
“Russia’s interference in the U.S. election is an extraordinary escalation of an already worrying trend.”
Whether or not it exists?
“Over the past 2½ years, Russia has executed a westward march of election meddling through cyberspace, starting in the states of the former Soviet Union and moving toward the North Atlantic.”
Freud. Sigmund. Paging a Doctor Freud, Sigmund. NATO has in fact literally marched in the path of Nazis right to the border of Russia with new members, new troops, new weapons, new nukes, new missile bases, new threats, and new lies — plus a violent coup in Ukraine. But it’s a march of alleged election meddling that should scare us, despite the United States government’s blatant election meddling (and support for coups) in nations all over the world, including Ukraine, Brazil, Honduras, Nicaragua, Venezuela, etc.
“‘On a regular basis they try to influence elections in Europe,’ President Obama told NBC News on July 26. With Russia establishing beachheads in the U.S. at least since April, officials worry that in the final weeks of the campaign the Russian cybercapability could be used to fiddle with voter rolls, election-reporting systems and the media, resulting in confusion that could cast a shadow over both the next President and the democratic process.”
Despite the offline decentralized security?
And the media too? How would Russia hack the media exactly?
“Obama’s decision not to call out the Russian espionage operation has so far left the effort to educate Americans about it to lawmakers and national-security experts. On Sept. 22, the ranking Democrats on the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, California’s Senator Dianne Feinstein and Representative Adam Schiff, released an unusually blunt statement. ‘Based on briefings we have received, we have concluded that the Russian intelligence agencies are making a serious and concerted effort to influence the U.S. election,’ they said. ‘At the least, this effort is intended to sow doubt about the security of our election.’
That’s like saying “We’ve been briefed on the WMDs in Iraq and at the very least there is an effort to scare the heck out of you. Of course we and Time magazine are central to this effort, but try to focus on the alleged role of Iraq.”
“Orders for Russian intelligence agencies to conduct electoral-influence operations, they added, could come only from very senior levels of government. ‘We call on [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin to immediately order a halt to this activity.’ The statement, though not endorsed publicly by the Administration, was cleared with the CIA. To understand why Putin would want to undercut the legitimacy of the U.S. election, it helps to step back from the long and ugly presidential campaign and remember why we’re voting in the first place. Elections are the ultimate source of authority in our democracy. Because Republicans and Democrats have agreed for decades that spreading democracy is good for everyone, America has pushed for free and fair elections around the world.”
Really? Are we all agreed on “pushing” for the “spread of democracy”? Who has more of it, do you think, Russia, the United States, or any of the seven nations the United States has bombed and “liberated” in recent years?
“And many nations have embraced them: peasants in the Balkans put on their Sunday best to go to the polls, and burqa-clad women in Afghanistan brave terrorist attacks to stand in line for hours to cast their ballots.”
Well that proves it. Better bomb some more places!
“Not surprisingly, quasi-authoritarian rulers in the former Soviet Union, latter-day communists in China and medieval theocrats in the Middle East, among many others, see America’s sometimes aggressive evangelism about the benefits of liberal democracy as a direct threat to their own claims to authority.”
The UN Charter also has that odd view, choosing to see aggressive wars as criminal.
“Putin has taken particular umbrage, accusing the U.S.–and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in particular–of meddling in Russia’s presidential election in 2012. He has publicly questioned the validity of past U.S. presidential elections, saying, on June 17, of the Electoral College, ‘You call that democracy?'”
“Now, experts say, Putin is expanding his anti-American campaign into cyberspace. ‘More than any attempt to get one candidate or another elected, this [Russian influence operation] is about discrediting the entire idea of a free and fair election,’ says Dmitri Alperovitch, co-founder and chief technology officer of CrowdStrike, the cybersecurity company that did the analysis of the DNC hack.”
Wow, congratulations on naming names. Dmitri must be a special person to get his name into Time magazine.
“No one knows that better than Arizona secretary of state Michele Reagan. One day in June she was in her backyard in Phoenix when she got a call from her chief of staff. ‘Are you sitting down?’ he asked. The FBI had been monitoring a corner of the so-called dark web, the network of hidden sites used by criminals to buy and sell drugs, pedophilic pornography and stolen identities. A group of hackers known collectively as Fancy Bear, which the U.S. government believes is controlled by Russian military intelligence, was trying to sell a user name and password that belonged to someone in an Arizona county election official’s office, which holds the personal data of almost 4 million people. ‘My first reaction was, Well, this is like the worst thing that you want to hear,’ Reagan recalls.”
All I can say is it’s a darn good thing everything is offline and decentralized.
“Reagan and the FBI scrambled to figure out how the Russians had gotten into Arizona’s system and what needed to be done to secure it. It turned out that an election official in rural Gila County, pop. 54,000, had opened a Word document on her desktop computer that contained malicious software. Fortunately, while Fancy Bear had penetrated a local computer system, it hadn’t accessed the statewide registration database. Others weren’t so lucky. Fancy Bear’s electronic fingerprints were found on the hack into the DNC computers. In Illinois, the feds found that Fancy Bear had stolen 85,000 voter records from that state’s registration systems in mid-July. Later that month, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) revealed that it, too, had been hacked by Fancy Bear.”
Well he or she or they are called “Bear.” I can’t see why that wouldn’t be enough to convict Russia in a court of law.
“With other states now reporting intrusions of unknown origin, the government wants to reassure the public that the vote count itself is safe. ‘We have confidence in the overall integrity of our electoral systems,’ Homeland Security chief Jeh Johnson said on Sept. 16. ‘It is diverse, subject to local control, and has many checks and balances built in.’ Each of the U.S.’s more than 9,000 polling places uses machines not connected to the Internet, precincts count and report their results independently, and most have paper or electronic backups in case a recount is needed.”
Oh OK, then I’ll stop worrying. Never mind, after all, Vladimir.
“The Administration has a message for Russia too.”
Oh no. Wait. What?
“The U.S. has privately warned that any effort to sway the election would be unacceptable, intelligence and other Administration officials tell TIME. Secretary of State John Kerry delivered the message to his counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in Laos on July 27. During a 90-minute meeting with Putin on the sidelines of the G-20 meeting on Sept. 6, Obama pulled Putin aside and discussed the cyberconcerns one-on-one, with no aides present, a White House official tells TIME. In a press conference later, the President called for restraint on all sides in the use of cyberweapons and issued a veiled threat about America’s cyberpowers. ‘Frankly, we’ve got more capacity than anybody both offensively and defensively,’ Obama said.”
Because offensive attacks by the United States are good things, you see. (Some people might get confused without that explanation.)
“Putin’s history of using influence operations against opponents begins, appropriately enough, with himself. As he was rising quickly through the Kremlin ranks in 1999, one of his main opponents, Prosecutor General Yuri Skuratov, was caught on tape having sex with two women in a hotel room in what Skuratov later claimed was a Putin-run espionage operation traditionally known as a ‘honey trap.’ Putin, who had risen from a Soviet-era KGB operative to head the country’s intelligence services, denied he was behind it but said on TV that his agents had confirmed that the man in the grainy video was Skuratov. Putin went on to win the presidency the next year. Skuratov, who ran against him, got less than 1% of the popular vote.”
That seems like good grounds to me for risking nuclear apocalypse. Please proceed.
“With the expansion of the Internet in the decade that followed, the Russians adopted cyberweapons as a standard tool of political meddling. Nowhere has their tactic of spreading chaos around a vote been clearer than in Ukraine, where three days before the presidential election on May 25, 2014, the computer systems of the Central Electoral Commission went dark. ‘The servers wouldn’t turn on. The links to the local election authorities were cut off,’ says Victor Zhora, director of the cybersecurity firm Infosafe, which had been hired to defend the system. ‘Literally, nothing worked.'”
Only the Russians could have done something so devious to put in place a new anti-Russian government that immediately began efforts to restrict the use of the Russian language, and which put into power actual Nazis.
Read the rest at Time magazine if you can stand it.
David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist and radio host. He is director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org. Swanson’s books include War Is a Lie. He blogs at DavidSwanson.org and WarIsACrime.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio, and he is a 2015 Nobel Peace Prize nominee.