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Lack of Evidence Doesn’t Deter Washington Post’s Russia Smears

The Washington Post on Friday claimed in a bombshell article that a “Secret CIA assessment says Russia was trying to help Trump win White House.” If true, this would be a shocking violation of U.S. sovereignty. One would think such serious accusations would require documentary evidence. Or in the absence of such evidence, at least putting officials on record to vouch for the findings. But the Post required neither.

As for the facts included in the CIA assessment, readers are left without any. The assessment is said to be “secret,” presumably meaning it is classified. The Post cannot even confirm that such an assessment even exists, much less whether it contains evidence supporting the allegations. (I asked the three Post reporters listed in the byline via Twitter whether they viewed the assessment themselves, but none have responded.)

The source of the information is said to be “officials briefed on the matter” who are not named. There is no indication why they were provided with anonymity. The Obama administration has zealously prosecuted whistleblowers (Chelsea Manning, John Kiriakou, Jeffrey Sterling, Thomas Drake) who have provided classified information to the press while acting in the public interest – exposing government crimes or misinformation.

But officials who selectively leak or mishandle classified information that the administration does not view as damaging have little to fear. David Petraeus, Leon Panetta and Hillary Clinton have all been given a pass or chastised with a slap on the wrist. Petraeus, who gave his lover/biographer access to classified documents, was given probation, slightly more lenient than the 35 years in a federal penitentiary meted out to Manning.

The New York Times soon followed the Post’s breaking story by reporting that U.S. intelligence agencies expressed “high confidence” that “Russia acted covertly in the latter stages of the presidential campaign to harm Hillary Clinton’s chances and promote Donald J. Trump.”

Like the Post, the Times depends on anonymous officials for their information.

The Trump campaign responded, logically, by casting doubt on whether the intelligence agencies should be trusted prima facie: “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.”

It is a fair point. Government intelligence agencies certainly have not earned the benefit of the doubt. Their most important mission appears to be enabling the administration they serve to achieve its political aims, rather than acting in the interest of the American public. In fact, they have demonstrated contempt towards the idea they should be held accountable to the public.

During an oversight into the CIA’s illegal torture program, officers of “the company” hacked the computers of Congressional staffers investigating the matter. NSA director James Clapper lied to Congress in testimony by claiming the agency was not collecting data on Americans, when the Snowden documents later proved this is exactly what they were doing.

For months, we have been hearing repeatedly that the Russian government is behind a series of hacks into the Democratic National Committee servers and state election systems. Even Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein has pointed the finger at Russia. Each accusation has come without any hard evidence, yet that has not seemed to give the media who parrot them any pause.

Hillary claimed in the final debate that “(w)e have 17 intelligence agencies, civilian and military, who have all concluded that these espionage attacks, these cyberattacks, come from the highest levels of the Kremlin, and they are designed to influence our election. I find that deeply disturbing.”

Yet it seems not to have occurred to the news organizations who keep repeating these claims that perhaps the intelligence agencies making them have their own agendas. For example, hyping accusations against a foreign enemy is a good way to ensure job security and rationalize ballooning budgets without actually demonstrating any results.

It also helps justify the administration’s policy of confrontation with Russia, popular with officials who seem nostalgic for the good old days of the Cold War. Over the last 8 years, the U.S. government has continued to expand NATO, helped foment a coup in Ukraine and consolidate the fascist-dominated government that came to power, spent $1 trillion to upgrade its nuclear weapons program, and moved military equipment and troops permanently to Russia’s borders.

When Donald Trump questioned these moves as needlessly provocative and expressed his intention to work with, rather than antagonize, Russia, he was portrayed as a Russian tool or a Manchurian candidate. The Clinton campaign started spinning fantasies of Russian interference on behalf of Trump to deflect from their own candidate’s historically low popularity and failure to resonate with voters.

The Russian government has categorically denied that the American “hysteria” has any truth to it, calling previous accusations of Russian meddling “mythical and fictitious.”

“Does anyone seriously think Russia can somehow influence the American people’s choice? Is American some kind of banana republic? America is a great power!” Putin said in October.

And if the allegations were in fact true, and Russia had meddled in U.S. elections? Russia’s actions would surely pale in comparison to those of the United States government itself over the last 70 years.

William Blum dedicates an entire chapter in his book Rogue State to U.S. interference in the elections of sovereign countries. He documents 20 cases of U.S. meddling:

Philippines, 1950s
Italy, 1948-1970s
Lebanon, 1950s
Indonesia, 1955
Vietnam, 1955
British Guyana, 1953-64
Japan, 1958-1970s
Nepal, 1959
Laos, 1960
Brazil, 1962
Dominican Republic, 1962
Chile, 1964-1970
Portugal, 1974-75
Australia, 1974-75
Jamaica, 1976
Nicaragua, 1984, 1990
Haiti, 1987-88
Russia, 1996
Mongolia, 1996
Bosnia, 1998

The most grievous case was in post-war Italy, when a Socialist-Communist coalition was dominating the polls and set to win the upcoming elections. The CIA mounted an all-out campaign to subvert the popular will by donating millions to opposition parties; forging documents that included personal and sexual details to make party members look bad; organizing letter writing campaigns from Italian Americans encouraging Italians not to vote for leftist parties; broadcasting radio propaganda featuring Italian American stars like Frank Sinatra; and threatening that in the case of a Communist victory that American aid would be cut off.

The U.S. has even been involved in interfering in elections in Russia itself. In 1994, when Boris Yeltsin’s approval rating was standing at a dismal 6 percent, American political strategists began providing advice that would help Yeltsin to overcome his Communist opponent. The American advisors from a San Francisco firm had suspicious connections to Bill Clinton, and while they did not admit involvement by the U.S. administration, they admitted their work was “made available to the Clinton White House.”

If the Post story were true, it would appear that the United States received a bitter taste of its own medicine for a change. But based on the information provided to date, there is no reason to believe that the story is anything more than McCarthyite scaremongering meant to delegitimize Trump’s victory and make it more difficult for his incoming administration to reverse the Obama administration’s hard-line policy towards Russia.

Amidst the hysteria over the threat of “fake news,” it doesn’t seem to occur to mainstream news organizations that to find the worst purveyors of such fake news, they ought to first look in the mirror.

This article originally appeared at American Herald Tribune.

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Matt Peppe writes about politics, U.S. foreign policy and Latin America on his blog. You can follow him on twitter.

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