Archive for the ‘Washington Post’ Category
Our journalists are failing us: Washington Post has a false and hysterical story about Russians hacking into a Vermont power grid
Here’s the report, by Juliet Eilperin and Adam Entous, the Chicken Little reporters who went from a hacked laptop not connected to any grid to a sky-is-falling report about Russia hacking our entire energy grid. In the fourth paragraph that do note that it was just some laptop that was hacked, but that fact barely seems to register in their fear-stoking report written in a hysterical register.
Glenn Greenwald does a good takedown of the report. As he notes, malware is passed around and purchased, and he notes:
. . . There was no “penetration of the U.S. electricity grid.” The truth was undramatic and banal. Burlington Electric, after receiving a Homeland Security notice sent to all U.S. utility companies about the malware code found in the DNC system, searched all their computers and found the code in a single laptop that was not connected to the electric grid.
Apparently, the Post did not even bother to contact the company before running its wildly sensationalistic claims, so they had to issue their own statement to the Burlington Free Press which debunked the Post’s central claim (emphasis in original): “We detected the malware in a single Burlington Electric Department laptop NOT connected to our organization’s grid systems.”
So the key scary claim of the Post story – that Russian hackers had penetrated the U.S. electric grid – was false. All the alarmist tough-guy statements issued by political officials who believed the Post’s claim were based on fiction.
Even worse, there is zero evidence that Russian hackers were responsible even for the implanting of this malware on this single laptop. The fact that malware is “Russian-made” does not mean that only Russians can use it; indeed, like a lot of malware, it can purchased (as Jeffrey Carr has pointed out in the DNC hacking context, assuming that Russian-made malware must have been used by Russians is as irrational as finding a Russian-made Kalishnikov AKM rifle at a crime scene and assuming the killer must be Russian).
As the actual truth emerged once the utility company issued its statement, the Post rushed to fix its embarrassment, beginning by dramatically changing its headline. . .
And a fascinating story it is. He reports in the Washington Post:
“Arnold and Tim, if you’d come up, we’re going to give you a nice, beautiful check,” Donald Trump said. He held up an oversize check, the kind they give to people who win golf tournaments. It was for $100,000. In the top-left corner the check said: “The Donald J. Trump Foundation.”
Along the bottom, it had the slogan of Trump’s presidential campaign: “Make America Great Again.”
This was in February.
The beginning of it.
Trump was in Waterloo, Iowa, for a caucus-day rally at the Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center — named for five local siblings who had been assigned to the same Navy cruiser in World War II. They all died when the ship went down at Guadalcanal.
Trump had stopped his rally to do something presidential candidates don’t normally do. He was giving away money.
Arnold and Tim, whom he had called to the stage, were from a local veterans group. Although their big check had Trump’s name on it, it wasn’t actually Trump’s money. Instead, the cash had been raised from other donors a few days earlier, at a televised fundraiser that Trump had held while he skipped a GOP debate because of a feud with Fox News.
Trump said he had raised $6 million that night, including a $1 million gift from his own pocket. Now Trump was giving it, a little at a time, to charities in the towns where he held campaign events.
“See you in the White House,” one of the men said to Trump, leaving the stage with this check that married a nonprofit’s name and a campaign’s slogan.
“He said, ‘We’ll see you in the White House,’ ” Trump repeated to the crowd. “That’s nice.”
After that, Trump lost Iowa.
He won New Hampshire.
Then he stopped giving away money.
But as far as I could tell, just over $1.1 million had been given away. Far less than what Trump said he raised. And there was no sign of the $1 million Trump had promised from his own pocket.
So what happened to the rest of the money?
It sounded like an easy question that the Trump campaign could answer quickly. I thought I’d be through with the story in a day or two.
I was wrong.
That was the start of nine months of work for me, trying to dig up the truth about a part of Trump’s life that he wanted to keep secret. I didn’t understand — and I don’t think Trump understood, either — where that one check, and that one question, would lead.
I’ve been a reporter for The Washington Post since 2000, covering everything from homicide scenes in the District to Congress to the World Championship Muskrat Skinning Contest. (People race to see who skins a dead muskrat the fastest. There’s also a beauty pageant. Some women compete in both.)
By the time I got to that Trump event in Waterloo, I’d been covering the 2016 presidential election for 13 months, since the last weeks of 2014. But I had the track record of a mummy’s curse: Just about every campaign I had touched was dead.
I had, for instance, covered former New York governor George Pataki’s (failed) attempt to get people to recognize him in a New Hampshire Chipotle. Pataki dropped out. I read the collected works of former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and made a list of everything the old Baptist preacher had ever condemned as immoral or untoward. The subjects of his condemnation ranged from college-age women going braless to dogs wearing clothes to Beyoncé. Huckabee condemned me. Then he dropped out, too.
I went to St. Louis to write about a speech given by former Texas governor Rick Perry. In the middle of the speech, Perry dropped out.
So by the time the New Hampshire primaries were over, the candidates I had covered were kaput. I needed a new beat. While I pondered what that would be, I decided to do a short story about the money Trump had raised for veterans.
I wanted to chase down two suspicions I’d brought home with me from that event in Iowa. For one thing, I thought Trump might have broken the law by improperly mixing his foundation with his presidential campaign. I started calling experts.
“I think it’s pretty clear that that’s over the line,” Marc S. Owens, the former longtime head of the Internal Revenue Service’s nonprofit division, told me when I called him.
Then Owens kept talking, and the story started deflating.
In theory, Owens said, nonprofit groups like the Trump Foundation are “absolutely prohibited” from participating or intervening in a political campaign. But, he said, if the IRS did investigate, it wouldn’t likely start until the Trump Foundation filed its paperwork for 2016. Which wouldn’t be until late 2017. Then an agent would open a case. There went 2018. Finally, Owens said, the IRS might take action: It might even take away the Trump Foundation’s tax-exempt status.
In 2019. Or maybe not ever.
Owens doubted that the IRS — already under scrutiny from the GOP-run Congress after allegations it had given undue scrutiny to conservative groups — would ever pick a fight with Trump.
“I don’t think anything’s going to happen” to Trump, Owens said. “But, theoretically, it could.”
My other suspicion was that Trump was still sitting on the bulk of the money he had raised for veterans — including the $1 million he had promised from himself.
I asked Trump’s people to account for all this money. They didn’t.
Then, finally, I got a call.
“The money is fully spent,” Corey Lewandowski, then Trump’s campaign manager, told me in late May. “Mr. Trump’s money is fully spent.”
But, Lewandowski told me, the details of Trump’s $1 million in gifts were secret. He wouldn’t say which groups Trump had donated to. Or when. Or in what amounts.
This was an important assertion — that Trump had delivered on a signature campaign promise — made without proof. I didn’t want to just take Lewandowksi’s word for it.
So I tried to prove him right. . .
Marcy Wheeler makes some good points in this post:
This post will unpack the leak from the CIA published in the WaPo tonight.
Before I start with the substance of the story, consider this background. First, if Trump comes into office on the current trajectory, the US will let Russia help Bashar al-Assad stay in power, thwarting a 4-year effort on the part of the Saudis to remove him from power. It will also restructure the hierarchy of horrible human rights abusing allies the US has, with the Saudis losing out to other human rights abusers, potentially up to and including that other petrostate, Russia. It will also install a ton of people with ties to the US oil industry in the cabinet, meaning the US will effectively subsidize oil production in this country, which will have the perhaps inadvertent result of ensuring the US remains oil-independent even though the market can’t justify fracking right now.
The CIA is institutionally quite close with the Saudis right now, and has been in charge of their covert war against Assad.
This story came 24 days after the White House released an anonymous statement asserting, among other things, “the Federal government did not observe any increased level of malicious cyber activity aimed at disrupting our electoral process on election day,” suggesting that the Russians may have been deterred.
This story was leaked within hours of the time the White House announced it was calling for an all-intelligence community review of the Russia intelligence, offered without much detail. Indeed, this story was leaked and published as an update to that story.
Which is to say, the CIA and/or people in Congress (this story seems primarily to come from Democratic Senators) leaked this, apparently in response to President Obama’s not terribly urgent call to have all intelligence agencies weigh in on the subject of Russian influence, after weeks of Democrats pressuring him to release more information. It was designed to both make the White House-ordered review more urgent and influence the outcome.
So here’s what that story says.
In September, the spooks briefed “congressional leaders” (which for a variety of reasons I wildarseguess is either a Gang of Four briefing including Paul Ryan, Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, and Harry Reid or a briefing to SSCI plus McConnell, Reid, Jack Reed, and John McCain). Apparently, the substance of the briefing was that Russia’s intent in hacking Democratic entities was not to increase distrust of institutions, but instead to elect Trump.
The CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system, according to officials briefed on the matter.
The difference between this story and other public assessments is that it seems to identify the people — who sound like people with ties to the Russian government but not necessarily part of it — who funneled documents from Russia’s GRU to Wikileaks.
Intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and others, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, according to U.S. officials. Those officials described the individuals as actors known to the intelligence community and part of a wider Russian operation to boost Trump and hurt Clinton’s chances.
[I]ntelligence agencies do not have specific intelligence showing officials in the Kremlin “directing” the identified individuals to pass the Democratic emails to WikiLeaks, a second senior U.S. official said. Those actors, according to the official, were “one step” removed from the Russian government, rather than government employees.
This is the part that has always been missing in the past: how the documents got from GRU, which hacked the DNC and John Podesta, to Wikileaks, which released them. It appears that CIA now thinks they know the answer: some people one step removed from the Russian government, funneling the documents from GRU hackers (presumably) to Wikileaks to be leaked, with the intent of electing Trump.
Not everyone buys this story. Mitch McConnell doesn’t buy the intelligence.
In September, during a secret briefing for congressional leaders, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) voiced doubts about the veracity of the intelligence, according to officials present.
That’s one doubt raised about CIA’s claim — though like you all, I assume Mitch McConnell shouldn’t be trusted on this front.
But McConnell wasn’t the only one. One source for this story — which sounds like someone like Harry Reid or Dianne Feinstein — claimed that this CIA judgment is the “consensus” view of all the intelligence agencies, a term of art.
“It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on an intelligence presentation made to U.S. senators. “That’s the consensus view.”
Except that in a briefing this week (which may have been what impressed John McCain and Lindsey Graham to do their own investigation), that’s not what this represented.
The CIA shared its latest assessment with key senators in a closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill last week, in which agency officials cited a growing body of intelligence from multiple sources. Agency briefers told the senators it was now “quite clear” that electing Trump was Russia’s goal, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.
The CIA presentation to senators about Russia’s intentions fell short of a formal U.S. assessment produced by all 17 intelligence agencies. A senior U.S. official said there were minor disagreements among intelligence officials about the agency’s assessment, in part because some questions remain unanswered. [my emphasis]
That’s a conflict. Some senior US official (often code for senior member of Congress) says this is the consensus view. Another senior US official (or maybe the very same one) says there are “minor disagreements.”
Remember: we went to war against Iraq, which turned out to have no WMD, in part because no one read the “minor disagreements” from a few agencies about some aluminum tubes. A number of Senators who didn’t read that footnote closely (and at least one that did) are involved in this story. What we’re being told is there are some aluminum tube type disagreements.
Let’s hear about those disagreements this time, shall we?
Here’s the big takeaway. . .
Anonymous Leaks to the Washington Post About the CIA’s Russia Beliefs Are No Substitute for Evidence
In The Intercept Glenn Greenwald points out some obvious weaknesses in the WaPo report:
The Washington Post late Friday night published an explosive story that, in many ways, is classic American journalism of the worst sort: The key claims are based exclusively on the unverified assertions of anonymous officials, who in turn are disseminating their own claims about what the CIA purportedly believes, all based on evidence that remains completely secret.
These unnamed sources told the Post that “the CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system.” The anonymous officials also claim that “intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails” from both the DNC and John Podesta’s email account. Critically, none of the actual evidence for these claims is disclosed; indeed, the CIA’s “secret assessment” itself remains concealed.
A second leak from last night, this one given to the New York Times, cites other anonymous officials as asserting that “the Russians hacked the Republican National Committee’s computer systems in addition to their attacks on Democratic organizations, but did not release whatever information they gleaned from the Republican networks.” But that NYT story says that “it is also far from clear that Russia’s original intent was to support Mr. Trump, and many intelligence officials — and former officials in Mrs. Clinton’s campaign — believe that the primary motive of the Russians was to simply disrupt the campaign and undercut confidence in the integrity of the vote.”
Deep down in its article, the Post notes — rather critically — that “there were minor disagreements among intelligence officials about the agency’s assessment, in part because some questions remain unanswered.” Most importantly, the Post adds that “intelligence agencies do not have specific intelligence showing officials in the Kremlin ‘directing’ the identified individuals to pass the Democratic emails to WikiLeaks.” But the purpose of both anonymous leaks is to finger the Russian government for these hacks, acting with the motive to defeat Hillary Clinton.
Needless to say, Democrats — still eager to make sense of their election loss and to find causes for it other than themselves — immediately declared these anonymous claims about what the CIA believes to be true, and, with a somewhat sweet, religious-type faith, treated these anonymous assertions as proof of what they wanted to believe all along: that Vladimir Putin was rooting for Donald Trump to win and Hillary Clinton to lose and used nefarious means to ensure that outcome. That Democrats are now venerating unverified, anonymous CIA leaks as sacred is par for the course for them this year, but it’s also a good indication of how confused and lost U.S. political culture has become in the wake of Trump’s victory.
Given the obvious significance of this story — it is certain to shape how people understand the 2016 election and probably foreign policy debates for months if not years to come — it is critical to keep in mind some basic facts about what is known and, more importantly, what is not known:
(1) Nobody has ever opposed investigations to determine if Russia hacked these emails, nor has anyone ever denied the possibility that Russia did that. The source of contention has been quite simple: No accusations should be accepted until there is actual convincing evidence to substantiate those accusations.
There is still no such evidence for any of these claims. What we have instead are assertions, disseminated by anonymous people, completely unaccompanied by any evidence, let alone proof. As a result, none of the purported evidence — still — can be publicly seen, reviewed, or discussed. Anonymous claims leaked to newspapers about what the CIA believes do not constitute proof, and certainly do not constitute reliable evidence that substitutes for actual evidence that can be reviewed. Have we really not learned this lesson yet?
A reminder to take every claim made by unnamed US officials about intelligence conclusions with healthy skepticism.
— Christopher Hayes (@chrislhayes) December 10, 2016
(2) The reasons no rational person should blindly believe anonymous claims of this sort — even if it is pleasing to believe such claims — should be obvious by now.
Read the whole thing. The Democrat’s use of McCarthy-like tactics is deplorable, if we want to talk about deplorables.
The Washington Post had a major story that was presented as a scandal, but it included (in the fifth paragraph of the story):
There is no evidence that Laureate received special favors from the State Department in direct exchange for hiring Bill Clinton, but the Baltimore-based company had much to gain from an association with a globally connected ex-president and, indirectly, the United States’ chief diplomat.
I added emphasis. The story is written as though the fact that Laureate received no special favors is diappoionting, and the story seems to be saying that even though nothing bad happened, it still might have happened, and that’s bad. In other words, it’s a story simply slinging mud on the basis of what it admits is “no evidence.”
And the the 26th paragraph:
Clinton’s contract with Laureate was approved by the State Department’s ethics office….An ethics official wrote that he saw “no conflict of interest with Laureate or any of their partners,” according to a letter recently released by the conservative group Citizens United, which received it through a public-records request.
So again: nothing wrong was done, but that doesn’t stop the Washington Post from ringing bells of alarm.
Compare the very mild treatment the Post gave Donald Trump’s relationship with the Florida Attorney General. Kevin Drum summarizes what happened in 2013:
Late August: Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi calls Donald Trump to ask for a donation to her reelection campaign.
September 10: In an unusual show of interest in a down-ballot race in Florida, Ivanka Trump donates $500 to Bondi. Apparently that’s insultingly small.
September 13: Bondi tells the Orlando Sentinel that her office is “currently reviewing the allegations” that Trump University has defrauded its students.
September 17: The Trump Foundation makes a $25,000 contribution to a PAC backing Bondi.
October 15: The Florida Attorney General’s office backtracks, telling the Orlando Sentinel there was never any consideration of joining the lawsuit against Trump U because they had received only one complaint during the time Bondi was in office. This was untrue: the AG’s office had received a couple dozen complaints, but had weeded them out so they could say there was only one.
As Kevin Drum notes:
There have been an endless number of stories about “clouds” and “suspicions” and “questions raised” regarding donations to the Clinton Foundation while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State. So far, though, there’s nothing even close to a smoking gun. Quite the opposite: the evidence so far suggests very strongly that nobody ever got anything for contributing to the Foundation.
But here we have a case that’s a mere hair’s breadth away from a smoking gun. There’s only the slightest wiggle room for believing that the events in Florida are all just a big coincidence. Maybe they deserve a little bit more front-page attention?
So what’s going on? Nancy LeTourneau writes about this kind of action in the Washington Monthly:
Do you remember that time when Jim Inhofe brought a snowball onto the Senate floor in February as “proof” that climate change is a hoax? He was being what we might call a “merchant of doubt.” Never mind that the scientific community has been studying the rise in global temperatures for quite a while. One snowfall in Washington raises doubts about what they’ve found.
The truth is that when scientists study things like global temperatures, they don’t assume that they need to look at the temperature of every single location on the planet every single day. Instead, they do a statistical analysis based on the number of locations/dates that prove to be significant as a way to measure the phenomenon. This is common practice in the scientific community and applies to everything from the study of climate change to political polling.
It is interesting to use this same method to study what we’ve learned lately about the Clinton Foundation. Any scientific inquiry must start with a hypothesis to test or questions to answer. In his interview on Democracy Now, Paul Glastris identified what the two questions are in this inquiry.
- Did Clinton Foundation donors get special access to the Secretary of State because of their donations?
- If they got special access, did they get anything in return for their donation?
To answer those questions from the perspective of scientific inquiry, we don’t need access to every single piece of data that it is possible to collect about the 4 years Hillary Clinton spent as Secretary of State. What we need is a statistically significant portion of that data. Tallying what that number would be is impossible because we don’t know the actual number of data points that exist (i.e., the denominator). But we can be fairly certain that when it comes to meetings/phone calls and emails, we have now gotten access to considerably more than a statistically significant number of them via the 171 emails released by Judicial Watch (in addition to what has already been released) and the 84 foundation donors studied by the Associated Press.
As has been pointed out here and elsewhere, based on a review of all of that data, what we have seen is that in every single instance, Sec. of State Clinton and her staff have consistently made the right choice. And yet, even the New York Times editorial board still insist on writing this:
Does the new batch of previously undisclosed State Department emails prove that big-money donors to the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation got special favors from Mrs. Clinton while she was secretary of state?
Not so far, but that the question arises yet again points to a need for major changes at the foundation now, before the November election.
Can I suggest that, much as the “question” about Benghazi continues in the fevered minds of some (after even multiple Republican Congressional inquiries have produced nothing), “the question that arises yet again” is as dispositive as Inhofe’s snowball in February. We are, at this point, dealing with nothing more than merchants of doubt.
Some will suggest that the issue here is the “appearance of corruption.” But once data has been presented to disprove that appearance, it is time to stop making that accusation and move on. As Matt Yglesias points out so well today, the reason this continues is more aptly described as the “assumption of corruption” when it comes to Hillary Clinton. . .
I think it is highly likely that Trump is echoing from a perhaps dim memory the New Jersey intimidation campaign: it’s the sort of thing that would strike him as clever and showy, and he certainly would have heard of it: New Jersey is right there.
Philip Bump reports in the Washington Post, making it perfectly clear that Trump is way in over his head:
After telling an audience in Altoona, Pa., that he would seek their help in policing the polls in November to root out voter fraud — something thateven the state of Pennsylvania has noted doesn’t exist in any meaningful way — Donald Trump’s campaign nationalized the effort on Saturday morning. Now eager Trump backers can go to Trump’s website and sign up to be “a Trump Election Observer.” Do so, and you get an email thanking you for volunteering and assuring you that the campaign will “do everything we are legally allowed to do to stop crooked Hillary from rigging this election.”
There are any number of problems with this, again starting with the fact that the frequency of in-person voter fraud in elections is lower than getting five numbers right in the Powerball. But there’s a potentially bigger legal problem noted by election law expert Rick Hasen of the University of California at Irvine: Trump’s unnecessary effort could be violating a prohibition against voter intimidation that applies to the Republican Party.
In 1981, the Republican Party rolled out a voter-integrity effort in New Jersey that mirrors what Trump demanded in Altoona. As described in a legal ruling about the prohibition:
The RNC allegedly created a voter challenge list by mailing sample ballots to individuals in precincts with a high percentage of racial or ethnic minority registered voters and, then, including individuals whose postcards were returned as undeliverable on a list of voters to challenge at the polls. The RNC also allegedly enlisted the help of off-duty sheriffs and police officers to intimidate voters by standing at polling places in minority precincts during voting with “National Ballot Security Task Force” armbands. Some of the officers allegedly wore firearms in a visible manner.
(Trump in Altoona: “We have to call up law enforcement. And we have to have the sheriffs and the police chiefs and everybody watching. … The only way they can beat it in my opinion — and I mean this 100 percent — if in certain sections of the state they cheat, okay?”)
The Democrats sued, and in 1982, the two parties agreed to a system under which the Republican National Committee agreed to refrain from a number of tactics that could be used to intimidate voters. That consent decree, as it is called, has been modified a number of times, often in response to efforts to challenge the ability of Democratic voters to vote, occasionally targeting black voters specifically.
In his blog post, Hasen points specifically to the fifth prohibition in the decree, Part E, which keeps the party from “undertaking any ballot security activities in polling places or election districts where the racial or ethnic composition of such districts is a factor in the decision to conduct, or the actual conduct of, such activities there and where a purpose or significant effect of such activities is to deter qualified voters from voting.” Trump’s pointed reference to how voters in “certain sections of the state” were likely to cheat was almost certainly a reference to a debunked claimthat the vote was rigged in predominantly black parts of Philadelphia.
We spoke with Hasen by phone on Saturday morning, and he . . .
I bet there are buckets of flop sweat pouring not from Trump, but from those supporting him, who gave up a lot in hopes of a payoff whose chances drop with every utterance Trump makes. Like today’s Tweet, blogged earlier today. The man simply has no awareness of the content, which to him seems beside the point: it’s all in the rhythm and the flow of attacks and headlines and stupid denial with more headlines, and then complete denial with more headlines. I think he’s taken it out as many as four iterations, as in the Obama and Clinton founded ISIS thing: utter crap when he said it, but journalismed to death. And Katrina Pierson’s bland statement that the US was not in Afghanistan until Obama invaded: Obama took the US into Afghanistan.
And it’s a great meme, since it almost compels one to repeat it, as I just did. If you look as this election as a meme struggle in a jungle of memes, all evolving to beat the band, this sort of tactic makes sense: it is a strongly reproducing meme, since it is so absolutely, outrageously false: a complete, utter, baldfaced lie.
So like looky-loos, people write about it, and in describing it, perpetuates it: rapid-fire meme reproduction. In action, right here.
Still, it is an amazing statement, isn’t it? From the spokesperson of a man who might actually become president. Don’t you get a sense that there is something deeply wrong with the US that this is happening? That would make sense: Trump as a symptom showing that somewhere along the way we got off track. Just thinking in meme terms.
UPDATE: Though meme evolution does give an interesting way of looking at what is happening before our very eyes, and it can also be observed in other contexts, my recommendation would be that, if you’ve not talked about it, don’t. It’s a neat idea that provides a “least-causes” explanation for what we see, but until you’ve chewed the idea over for a while and looked for (and found) instances, it does sound wacky: like a kind of cartoon science. But I think he was really onto something, and he gave convincing reasons (Darwinian first principles) for what what happens should hape according to meme evolution. But you see what I mean about wacky.