Since December I have watched in amazement the nightly media circus surrounding claims that the Russians “hacked the presidential election.” The fevered back and forth accusations in the media will no doubt heat up again on Thursday when former FBI Director James Comey testifies under oath before the Senate Intelligence Committee. We will once again be treated to loud voices on cable news networks for days following the testimony. There will be lots of volume, but will anyone in the media actually do a little bit of analysis? I highly doubt it.
Before the spin machines go nuts for the next 96 hours it might be useful to go back to the beginning.
The beginning in this case is a deeply flawed, poorly written, gruel thin intelligence report that was released by former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on January 6, 2017. I have some experience working in intelligence and my assessment of the Clapper Report (Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections) is that it is the worst intelligence report I have ever read. Had my intelligence analysts produced a report so devoid of reason, not only would I not release such a report, I would question the ability of my analysts to think clearly.
There are so many glaring logical fallacies, factual errors, and couched terms in this “assessment”, I am shocked that to date no one has questioned Mr. Clapper about it. Our nation is full of 24/7 television news – and each channel has someone constantly commenting about “Trump and Russia.” Despite the avalanche of self-proclaimed experts –it appears that no one has even read the Clapper report. It has been publicly available since January and no one has analyzed Mr. Clapper’s terrible analysis!
Well, I am about to set that straight.
10 REASONS THE JANUARY 6 2017 INTELLIGENCE REPORT IS FAKE INTELLIGENCE
1. 72% of the report has nothing to do with the 2016 presidential election. One of the first things anyone reading the DNI report will notice is that only 7 of 25 pages in the report have anything to do with the 2016 election. When I first heard that Clapper had released a 25 page intelligence report, I thought it would contain a ton of evidence, even in an unclassified document, supporting its central claims. What I actually discovered is that Clapper used a trick that my college students used to use when I gave them a writing assignment. Namely, Clapper only had 5 pages of actual information, so he added in repetitive paragraphs and 18 pages of filler that had NOTHING to do with his central claim. Like a college student adjusting margins and font sizes to turn his 3 page paper into a 6 page paper, Clapper filled his report on 2016 with blank pages and most inexplicably a lengthy annex on the 2012 election; an annex that completely undermined the central claims of the Clapper report.
2. The 17 agencies of the Intelligence Community did NOT sign off on Clapper’s report. Despite the constant drumbeat in the media that “17 intelligence agencies agree” the January 6 report is NOT signed by 17 intelligence agencies. There is no Intelligence community seal on the front of the report. Furthermore on page i, the report clearly states that only the CIA, FBI, and NSA signed off on this report. 14 other agencies remain silent – at least with regard to this report.
3. The scope of the report contradicts itself. Again, citing page i, the report states “It covers the motivation and scope of Moscow’s intentions regarding U.S. elections and Moscow’s use of cyber tools and media campaigns to influence US public opinion.” A few sentences later, the report states “we did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election.”
Did you get that? The report is focused on Russian campaign influence but did not assess Russian campaign influence. That’s like a police officer saying “I assessed the suspects drug dealing but I am not going to assess whether he actually sold drugs.” I am not sure if I should be disgusted or amused by the “scope” of the report.
4. The First Key Judgement is demonstrably false. On page ii, under the heading Key Judgements the Clapper report states: “Russian efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election represent the most recent expression of Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine US-led liberal democratic order, but these activities demonstrated a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations.” [Emphasis added] Maybe the author of this report is a 19 year old – but those of us who lived and served during the cold war know immediately that this claim is complete bunk.
A significant escalation in 2016? Let’s not forget that during the Cold War the USSR had agents, moles, the Communist Party USA, fellow travelers, Moscow funded front groups (for example peace movements) all of whom were very active. If anything, 2016 marked a de-escalation when compared to Cold War levels. Furthermore, Clappers own report, the very same January 6 report – has a 12 page annex (that is nearly 50% of the entire report) outlining in detail, Russian influence operations during the 2012 ELECTION! The report has 12 pages on 2012 and one paragraph on 2016, but still makes the dubious claim that 2016 marked an “escalation.”
5. Assessment by political appointees at CIA and FBI are not backed by Military professionals at NSA. On page 1, the report claims “we also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances…” [Italics added] At the end of that paragraph we learn that only the CIA (led by political appointee Brennan) and FBI (led by Comey) had high confidence in that judgment. The NSA (led by a military officer not a politician) had only moderate confidence. Even more revealing of the weakness of this “judgment” comes in the same report in the previous paragraph on page 1: “When it appeared to Moscow that Secretary Clinton was likely to win the election, the Russian influence campaign then focused on undermining her expected presidency.”
Anyone who watched the presidential campaign knows that from March to Election Day – no one in America thought Trump was going to win. If the Russians stopped aspiring to help Trump get elected when they thought Mrs. Clinton would win – then that means the Russians never actually aspired to help Trump! From March to November he had no chance to win! So what really happened is that Russia used propaganda to attack America – just like they did in every election since 1948.
6. Lack of evidence and insinuation are used instead of facts and rigorous analysis. There are multiple cases of poor analysis and insinuation used by the authors. For example, on page 1 the report states “Beginning in June, Putin’s public comments about the US presidential race avoided directly praising President-elect Trump, probably because Kremlin officials thought that any praise from Putin would backfire in the United States.” [Italics added] Simply put, that statement is illogical and shoddy intelligence work. Just four paragraphs earlier the report claims Russia stopped aspiring to help Trump because they thought Clinton would win. By June it was clear who would win (Clinton). Furthermore, there is NO EVIDENCE that Putin praised Trump before June. The report offers nothing to support its claim.
Another example of the report using insinuation rather than fact-based intelligence analysis is found on the bottom of page 2: “Putin has had many positive experiences working with western political leaders whose business interests made them more disposed to deal with Russia, such as former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.” This paragraph has nothing to do with the 2016 election. It is a thinly veiled attempt to say, “Putin got along with a couple of Euro Businessmen in the past; Trump is a business man!” So without evidence, we are supposed to believe that Trump is like Berlusconi. That might work at CNN but that is NOT rigorous intelligence work. It is shoddy work.
7. A significant part of the report focuses on a Russian television network that no one watches. This might be the strangest part of the January 6 DNI report. An entire page of the report (page 4) is almost exclusively dedicated to RT (the Russian propaganda television station and internet site). The reason this is strange is that no one in America watches RT or RT.com When I say no one, I am only slightly exaggerating. RT television has 100,000 daily viewers in the USA. Unless they all live in Wisconsin – exactly how do 100,000 RT television viewers influence our election? This is a network that has less influence than Al Jazeera.
Adding to my confusion is the lineup of leftwing political commentators on RT. People such as Ed Schultz, Sean Stone, and Max Keiser (a democrat candidate for congress). If we are going to do some intelligence analysis Mr. Clapper, maybe your report could explain why lifelong democrats and Hillary supporters were conspiring with Russia to defeat her?
8. The report admits the Russians interfered much more in past elections. On page 5 of the report we find these statements: “The Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) Directorate S officers arrested in the United States reported to Moscow about the 2008 election.” So in 2008, Russia dispatched actual spies into the United States, but in 2016 Clapper is concerned about Facebook posts by Russian Trolls? Furthermore, the report says “In the 1970s, the KGB recruited a Democratic Party activist who reported information about then-presidential hopeful Jimmy Carter’s campaign and foreign policy plans.” Again, if the Russians had paid spies in DNC circles, can someone explain how 2016 Russian efforts are unprecedented? Can someone explain how Twitter posts by trolls in 2016 are more dangerous than paid agents in the 1970’s infiltrating the Carter campaign?
9. The DNI report amazingly admits that Russian propaganda efforts supported left wing causes such as Occupy Wall Street and Anti-Fracking! Annex A of this abysmal “intelligence” report focuses exclusively on the 2012 Presidential campaign. This is strange because the DNI report is supposed to be about Russian influence in the 2016 campaign not 2012. However, it is the details in Annex A that completely contradict the key judgments of the report itself.
On page 7 we find that RT television supported Occupy Wall Street with its propaganda programming in the run-up to the 2012 election. Furthermore, on page 8 we get this gem: “RT runs anti-fracking programming.”
I believe that the CIA, FBI, and NSA have many brilliant and professional analysts. So why didn’t any of the brilliant analysts work on this report? Whoever wrote this report was so sloppy that they included evidence that the Russians support Occupy Wall Street and Anti-Fracking protestors. Both of these groups are violently opposed to President Trump. If the Russians are rational actors (they are) why would they support the most pro-fracking Presidential candidate in 2016 after supporting anti-fracking protestors for the previous 5 years? Are the authors of this report vaguely familiar with logic?
10. There is no assertion in the report that the Russians actually hacked anything. Probably the most amazing aspect of this report is that at no time does the author assert that Russia hacked anyone in the Clinton campaign. While I understand that this is an unclassified report, nothing prevents the author from saying declaratively, we have definitive proof that the Russians hacked someone – anyone – associated with Clinton. Stating you have that evidence is not classified. Attributing specific leaks of information to Russian Cyber operations certainly would help make this report credible.
The only clear statement about Russian cyber operations is the following: “Russian intelligence services conducted cyber operations against targets associated with the 2016 US presidential election, including targets associated with BOTH major US political parties.” No one should believe this is new. Anyone who has followed the rise of cyber warfare knows that Russia has been conducting operations for years. Furthermore – did you catch that both? BOTH political parties were targets.
The report also alludes to Gucifer 2.0, DCLeaks and Wikileaks as organizations that the Russian used to leak material. But not a word on what material. For example, on August 12, 2016 less than 3 months before the election DCLeaks.com released 300 e-mails they obtained from the accounts of GOP Senators McCain and Graham. Was this the result of Russian operations? Who knows?
The authors of this report are intentionally vague without reason. If they had evidence that the Russians stole John Podesta’s e-mail, they could have stated that in this report without violating classification rules. The fact that his report intentionally avoids clear statements and instead relies on innuendo can only be termed poor intelligence work.
Thursday night when you are watching the local evening news, CNN, or FOXNEWS – ask yourself a question. How is it possible, that with all these media personalities, all the pundits, all the so-called experts, the lawyers, the loudmouths, the snarky hosts, and the hysterical opinion-makers – how is it possible that no one has ever asked any tough questions about the January 6 Director of National Intelligence report on Russian Influence?
It’s a crappy report. You’d think someone on TV might actually read it and ask a few tough questions. Or maybe just one member of congress could read it and ask a few questions.
I dare you to read it.
Copyright © 2017 cjcheetham