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“Trust, But Don’t Verify”: US Intelligence Agencies and the New Cold War

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Just as the first casualty of war is said to be the truth, the first casualty of the New Cold War is irony. Our most prominent journalists seem to have missed the Orwellian irony of Senator John McCain asking Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper at Friday’s Senate hearings if Julian Assange has any credibility.  Assange has maintained that the hacked or leaked emails of Democratic Party officials did not come from the Russian government, or any other government.

As is well known, Clapper lied to Congress about a serious violation of the constitutional rights of tens of millions of Americans. This lie is a crime for which he actually could have been prosecuted.

In March 2013, Clapper falsely answered, “No, sir” to the question, “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions, or hundreds of millions of Americans?”  He later admitted that his answer was untrue.

Clapper lied again in Friday’s testimony, saying that Assange was “under indictment” for “a sexual crime.” In fact, Assange has not been indicted for anything, and the government of Sweden has never even charged him with a crime. In reality, he is a political prisoner, and the United Nations Working Group on arbitrary detention has found that he has been arbitrarily detained since 2010 by the UK and Sweden, and ordered his release and compensation. He has offered from the beginning of his political persecution to co-operate with the Swedish authorities in any investigation, and to be interviewed at any time in London. He could not safely return to Sweden without guarantees that he would not be sent to the US, where he currently faces a high likelihood of imprisonment (even before any trial) for having published leaked documents that exposed US war crimes and other embarrassments. For years, neither Sweden nor the UK would agree to that because, it appears, their foreign ministries are collaborating with the US government to keep him imprisoned.

For anyone on a jury who had to weigh the testimony of Clapper against that of Assange, it would be a no-brainer. Not only is Clapper a proven and serial liar, but in 10 years of WikiLeaks revelations, Assange has never been shown to have lied about anything.

That said, it is entirely possible the Russian government was involved in the hacking of emails here, and that Assange and WikiLeaks would not necessarily be able to identify the original source of the leaks, which is very difficult to do. However, We the People have yet to be presented with evidence that Russian hacking is what actually happened.

But the media has become so distracted with the festivities at America’s  new 1950’s theme party, hating on Putin and Russia like there’s no tomorrow, that the lack of evidence has become almost irrelevant to the big media conversation. The DNI report released on Friday, supposedly to provide the public with evidence that the Russian government had indeed hacked emails in order to influence the US elections, contained no actual evidence that they did so. There was a lot of evidence that Trump was the preferred candidate of Putin and his government. But we didn’t need evidence for this; pure logic would have sufficed. What government wouldn’t favor a candidate who promises better relations with them?

About half of the report was littered with a long rant against Russian-sponsored media, including the television station Russia Today. Here is another deep irony: the media that swung the election for Trump was not Russian but American, despite the fact that most of these journalists and editors found the candidate repellent.  Trump’s huge advantage in free publicity not only won him the primary, but continued into the general election. It was the US media that made the Comey letter so important, because the broadcast media used it to displace Trump’s scandals, including the allegations of sexual assaults, in the crucial last 11 days when millions of voters made up their minds.

Another irony: The US has been hacking elections (and toppling governments) around the world for more than a century. How many hundreds of millions of people, from Indonesia to Chile and dozens of countries in between, wish that all the United States did to their elections was what Russia is accused of doing here in 2016? Of course that is no justification for any foreign intervention here, but it is part of the current story if we want to understand it. Washington’s intervention in Ukraine, for example, helped push that country into a civil war that became the main cause of the current state of Cold War between the US and Russia.

The media coverage makes for an entertaining circus, especially the acrobatics of various political leaders as they flip-flop on issues of Cold War and peace and who should be stupid enough to believe intelligence agencies, on faith, after they have lied about so many things from Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction back to the Gulf of Tonkin resolution and the Vietnam War.

The official story is that they can’t show us how they know what the Russian government did because that would compromise their intelligence sources and/or methods. Sorry folks, you are threatening to worsen relations even further with a nuclear weapons superpower; you are going to have to show us some evidence. As George W. Bush famously said, “Fool me once, shame on … shame on you …. Fool me twice … fool me, you can’t get fooled again!”

This article originally appeared in The Hill.

Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. and president of Just Foreign Policy. He is also the author of  Failed: What the “Experts” Got Wrong About the Global Economy (Oxford University Press, 2015).

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