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Russian to Judgement: the Senate Report

“By repetition, each lie becomes an irreversible fact upon which other lies are constructed.”

― John Le Carre, author

Author and former British spy, a rightwing fave, is regarded as the coiner of the expression Deep State — what he described as “the invisible labyrinth of power” outside of government that actually controls the operations of a nation’s background machinations. Most powerful nations have one. In the US, we often refer to this State as the Military-Industrial-Complex (MIC), after Ike’s farewell speech in 1960, in which he references the expression. Not necessarily malignant, the Deep State does complicate the open workings of government by privileging the needs of corporations and the military over democratically expressed desires (such as a modernization of the social safety net to include universal health insurance, free tuition and loan forgiveness). Usually, the needs of the MIC amounts to illicit money-making.

It’s difficult for Lefties (real ones) to know what to do in these situations, as they’re loose, linguistic, and work themselves up to strike back at the Right-Wing bullies calling the shots, stealing the game plans, like the cheating Patriots, and end up in court, all hoo-haa, slapping their tormentors with horsefeathers, earnest Marxists up against Romulus and Remus from the social Darwinian set, with predictable results: They get stalked, locked in and barrel-laughed at, until, finally, linguistics failing them, the Lefties are at each other’s throats.

Beginning in the 80s we really needed a lift from the Lefties, but by the time the decade was over, Gorbachev’s Wall was down in Berlin, and keychained as souvenirs (still available on eBay), the neo-Gold Rush East was on, Moscow fell to Mickey D’s in the spring of X and Buffoon installed as president; the Chinese, looking on, with their long game face, heaved Mao for Money and, instead of a self-defeating arms race with the US Opioid Warriors beat them at their own game, so that Americans may soon be heaving Das Kapital for Communitarianism (see “democratic socialism”). Sigh.

And back home, in the 80s, political conmen had convinced the blue collar bees to join Reagan’s self-immolation of democracy, and turn on (no, not that way) the Left, who had always, in theory and platitudes (End Welfare As We Know It, Hope and Change to fist-pumpin’ Mandela music), had their backs. Now the Reagan Democrats were trickling down on the scraggly “hippies” left over from the 60s, and not even knowing it, high on I-beams, they were so far above the folky Left now.

Well, over at The Intercept ol’ James Risen, finally released from the shock corridor called the New York Times, where he’d won that Pulitzer he craved, and proceeded to solve a murder upon transfer to a new asylum, but at a cost, it seems, was now at work likening the recently released Senate Report on the investigation into Russian interference into the 2016 presidential election to a John le Carré novel. He writes,

The Senate report is filled with such rich details, shedding new light on the wide cast of characters surrounding both Trump and Putin, and the end result is an engrossing tale of modern intelligence — and of lust, avarice, squalid opportunism, and incompetence — worthy of John le Carré…It has brought the Trump-Russia story to life.

I don’t think so, James. Actually, the Report reads as flat as generic people on yellow legal pad paper. Reader-response theory says we bring page texts to life, like GE and their goodness, but, geez, James, John le Carré? And you don’t even mention the Deep State.

The Report is broken up into two main sections, one that reports on Counterintelligence concerns, and the other that reviews Executive decisions that came to play in the scandal. In the first section we read about Paul Manafort, the Agalarovs, George Papadopoulos, Carter Page, Konstantin Kilimnik, and Trump’s “kompramat” meeting with Miss Moscow, which was not as titillating as you’d expect from a le Carré novel: Even Jimmy Carter’s revelation that he had lust in his heart for other women cared enough about reader prurience to embed the article inside the slick pages of Playboy, where you can more readily empathize with his male gaze and tortured self-confession. The only other possible sexy bit in this “novel” coroner virus was reference to the funky debunked Christopher Steele dossier confabulation about Trump hiring two models to do a Reagan Democrat (see above) on a bed the Obamas supposedly slept in, during their visit to Moscow in 2009. False? No harm, no foul rule applies. Spy stuff? Nyet.

And individual portraits of important personages the Report conjures up are somewhat less than thriller material. In the pre-ramble, the Committee notes of Carter Page, for example, “The Committee found no evidence that Page made any substantive contribution to the Campaign or ever met Trump.” Not exactly Reilly: Ace of Spies stuff. Hell, not even Harriet the Spy would follow this guy. And yet, and yet, the unvetted Steele dossier, implicating the guy with a Sylvester Stallone name, was enough to get the FBI a rubber stamp from the FISA court to Get Carter Page and go after the Trump campaign. That nasty fact — detailed in the Horowitz Report — is left out of this nailbiter report.

Bigger fish, such as Paul Manafort, are described in such matte-latte ways that you can’t really get a grasp of his character. Declaratives seem to lack adverbs and adjectives that would bring him fully to life; he’s like the Frankenstein before the Herr Doktor applied the juice to his sorry compound ass. Check out how the Report describes Manafort’s doings with key player Konstantin Kilimnik:

At the outset of his work for the Ukrainian oligarchs and for Deripaska, Manafort hired and worked increasingly closely with a Russian national, Konstantin Kilimnik. Kilimnik is a Russian intelligence officer. Kilimnik quickly became an integral part of Manafort’s operations in Ukraine and Russia, serving as Manafort’s primary liaison to Deripaska and eventually managing Manafort’s office in Kyiv.

Ho-hum. I’ve had more fun falling to sleep by counting sheepish grins jumping over Trump’s proposed Wall.

Compare the above to the portrait of Manafort offered up by Heather Cox Richardson, who wants to paint a person rather than a meme character:

Quickly, Manafort began to look to foreign countries for his clients. He took advantage of the anti-communist focus of foreign policy after Reagan, cleaning up shady clients to look good enough to US lawmakers that they could get US dollars to shore up their political interests. Touting his connections to the Reagan and Bush administrations, Manafort racked up clients. He backed so many dictatorial governments—Nigeria, Kenya, Zaire, Equatorial Guinea, Saudi Arabia, and Somalia, among others—that a 1992 report from the Center for Public Integrity called his firm “The Torturers’ Lobby.”

The Tortures’ Lobby?! Now we got ourselves an international man of intrigue. C’mon, James.

Now, this Kilimnik fellow is, through Manafort, considered the main link to the Trump campaign. The Report avers, without much evidence, that Kilimnik was a Russian spy. Maybe, maybe not so much; hard to tell with descriptors so limited. But Trump did not know Manafort, who came to the campaign broke, broken and teary, and could only have been helpful as a potential backchannel to Putin, for his own private interests. Lots of elite Americans have those.

Hillary, for instance, may have faced similar, fuller MSM questions about how the Uranium One deal went down and, for sure, Repugs would have picked it up in a Senate investigation had she won (which she did) in 2016. After the Wikileaks emails were published showing her relationship, among other things, to potential Wall Street quid pro quos, Rudy Giuliani called for a RICO investigation of “Clinton Inc.” One notes the source, while acknowledging that Rudy became a legend in NYC in the 80s and 90s for cleaning up mob families with a pail of RICO disinfectant.

However, not only Fox raised the messy money issue, George Stephanopoulos on ABC laid out in more detail what had been revealed by the Wikileaks emails about Clinton. They weren’t pretty, and the slovenly way her campaign handled donor information (leaving it posted online) would have made her some enemies. Four campaign staffers resigned as a result of the scandal. One notes that no serious follow-up has been made of the Wikileaks email contents that suggested corpulent corruption and pay-for-play intentions. Again, Hillary might have faced impeachment had she won (and she honestly did). Hillary’s an intriguing figure, and her doings would have been a delightful addition to the le Carré-esque report. Is it too much to ask to have a Red Sparrow show up in all this?

But one last thing about Hillary and her campaign. To use baseball terminology, Hillary struck out. Let us count the ways. She illicitly housed State Department emails on a personal server at home that had inadequate security, and from which, confidential information may have been purloined or lost in transmission to others. We’ll never know, since so many emails were accidentally lost. Strike two is the knowledge, late learned, that Hillary’s campaign hired IT idiots who ignored a warning of a breach by the FBI a year before the DNC hack, resulting in many rich donors inadvertently having their names and social security numbers posted online. And, last, the emails delivered from Clinton’s campaign confidante X to Andrew Weiner, to devastating effect, when it was discovered he was a serial text fiend. Strike Three! One can easily conceive how a rich donor might have back-channeled to the FBI resulting in Comey’s October Surprise.

The Committee considers two crucial threads of the alleged significant interference in the 2016 presidential election under its Executive Branch Investigations. One, The DNC Hack: A Case Study in the FBI Victim Notification Process; and, Two, The Steele Dossier: Its Origins and Handling. With the hack, there’s a lot of quack-quack about who knew what when and why nothing was done with early warnings to the DNC’s IT people.

As far as the victim notification process goes, one remembers the CEO of Crowdstrike’s main competitor, Kevin Mandia, going before a select House committee in October 2011 and explaining to them how the process worked. Pretty stunning stuff to read:

…in over 90% of the cases we have responded to, Government notification was required to alert the company that a security breach was underway. In our last 50 incidents, 48 of the victim companies learned they were breached from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Defense or some other third party. (my italics)

In his memoir, Edward Snowden explained in detail the full range of technologies available to the US government, especially the NSA. They are passively spying on American companies and usually alerting them when a “breach” is discovered.

Naturally, this freaks some corporate heads out. Mike Herrington, the section chief of the FBI’s cyber division, recently told Wired magazine,

It is often a very significant event in that person’s career or life to have the FBI calling them and saying we believe you may be the victim of a crime.

This appears to be what happened when,

From August 2015 until early May 2016, the FBI attempted to assist the DNC in recognizing and responding to Russian intrusions into the DNC network.

Instead of perking up and begging the FBI for help, you know, to protect our democracy, DNC IT warded them off, uncomfortable with the FBI’s watchfulness. Who would be? The Committee called it all a year-long botched communication between the DNC and the FBI (and later Crowdstrike). In any case, the IT staff did little or nothing, resulting in the posting of the aforementioned donor data.

It’s easy to see how things might have gone wrong with the DNC network.

Clinton’s IT people in charge of protecting the DNC network, at least as reported by the Committee, seemed to be inept and incompetent:

Prior to the multiple-GRU intrusions into the DNC, the DNC networks were protected by a firewall, spam filters, an IT directory that managed password rotation, the Windows Defender system, and two-factor authentication on the VPN system.

We’ll have to consider it an oversight, but no mention is made of virus, rootkit or keylogging protection. Windows Defender? They continued to ignore FBI communiques telling them of “utility” server hits and spear-phishing.

Finally, in April of 2016, according to Andy Greenberg of Wired, Yared Tamene and the IT guys at the DNC made “a sickening discovery” and realized how lax they’d been, and called for the help recommended: Crowdstrike. Surprisingly, the suspicions that made them keep the FBI’s perceived pushiness at bay were, according to the report, a reason to hire Crowdstrike, as it was operated by, in part, an FBI higher-up, Shawn Henry, who had in his two decades at the FBI finished there in charge of “half of the FBI’s investigative operations, including all FBI criminal and cyber investigations worldwide, international operations, and the FBI’s critical incident response to major investigations and disasters.” Perfect guy for the problem. Suddenly, they were giving the FBI, through Henry, deeper access than they had considered.

No doubt, Shawn Henry maintains his Top Secret clearance and access to national security servers few others do. Given his relatively early “retirement’ from the FBI, it seems fair, in light of what Edward Snowden describes in his memoir, to ask if Henry is a Homo Contractus? Did he go private to stay a public official, but with half the accountability calories? When he came to the determination that the GRU was responsible for “the hack,” a finding still under dispute and not further clarified by the Committee report, did he do so as a private citizen or as an FBI man wearing, like Snowden, a company badge and doing FBI work?

One thing is for certain is that Crowdstrike hit the jackpot with the shaky technical finding that served to dress in armor an intelligence assessment signed on by “7” IC offices, including from the lying mouths of John Brennan (CIA) and James Clapper (NSA), the latter head of the agency that most likely passed on the “breach” to the FBI to get them to notify the victim — the DNC.

It draws an interesting parallel to the rise of Mandiant, Crowdstrike’s primary cybersecurity competition, whose CEO was mentioned above. Like Crowdstrike, Mandiant’s fortunes exploded after finding in 2012 that the WSJ, WaPo and the NYT were breached by P.L.A. Unit 61398. The same set up was reported: a specific group with photos and a building site. Indictments were announced, implicating operators who would spend a day in American court. The MSM played along beautifully. As Mandiant was on periphery for the DNC hit, Shawn Henry was there to weigh in on the Chinese hits, telling WaPo, “I’ve yet to come across a network that hasn’t been breached,” said Henry, president of CrowdStrike Services, a security company. “It’s like having an invisible man in your room, going through your filing cabinets.” In early January 2013, Mandiant announced it had been bought out by Fire Eye (tied to the CIA) for $1b; Mandia made CEO and Board Director.

The Committee report is unconvincing about technical happenings of the breach at the DNC in 2016. Even today, it is unclear to what extent the DNC network was hacked — not only by the GRU but by others, as Julian Assange has claimed. (Why was no attempt to question Assange?) James Comey told the Committee that he did not examine the DNC servers, but relied on Crowdstrike, with its way too intimate relationship with the FBI. Among the questions not raised by the MSM is why Shawn Henry, “head of all cybersecurity worldwide for the FBI” under Director Bob Mueller, and implementer with Mueller of the NSA’s collection breaches of Americans under Stellar Wind, was not a problem, or a conflict of interests? Surely, the NSA knew the extent of the breach. Ask Snowden.

Crowdstrike was unable to determine if there had been an “exfiltration,” meaning a thumb drive pocketed. This brings up another unanswered question: Why didn’t anyone ask Julian Assange? In the one of the most under-reported interviews I’ve seen in a while, Assange was interviewed on the cushy middle class PBS NewsHour by Judy Woodruff on August 3, 2016, and specifically addressed exfiltration:

Well, I can reveal to you the source of the information today. The source of the information is the Democratic Party. It is Debbie Wasserman Schultz. It is the chief financial officer. It is the communications officer, Luis Miranda, in fact all these people who have just been fired, and another (INAUDIBLE) so that’s the source of the information that’s known.

Revealed today are keywords, as are Debbie and Luis, and suggest their deliverance of the emails. Even Judy hears it that way. Read the transcript (or watch). Why has there never been any MSM or Mueller follow up with Debbie or Luis?

As to the second section of this Executive report, we now know it was just garbage that Steele tried to palm off on the Left, through Mother Jones. The NSA tried to get Briton to score “kompromat” on UN Security Council members in the lead-up to the Gulf War, which is the subject of the whistleblower film Official Secrets. Christopher Steele is the kind of operator they would have sent. Although it was clear, almost from the outset, that Steele’s attempted demonization of Trump was a fraud, the Horowitz Report found that the FBI violated any number of procedures and protocols (i.e., they lied) to get a FISA court to get a warrant to, essentially, bug the Trump campaign. The saddest part of this Report, for this reader, was finding out that Peter Smith, the “hero” who had worked with Diane Feinstein to produce the Terror Report, was the conduit for Steele’s garbage.

How the FBI got so entangled in both 2016 campaigns, to ill effect, needs more looking into. It almost seems, at times, like the IC operatives are at work interfering in their own democratic processes. There’s a precedent: Nixon, and his take down, which was largely due to the FBI. Mark Felt, the Associate Director of the FBI, passed over for the directorship when J. Edgar Hoover died, was bitterly disappointed, and it motivated him to fink on Nixon. Felt and others suspected the director of being a closet gay. Probably Felt’s handle, “Deep Throat,” was a reference to the hoovering J. Edgar. Not a whistleblower.

There’s not a whole lot new in the Report, if you’re looking for clarity or closure on the DNC issue. You’d be better off curling up to The Russia House, if you need spycraft frisson.

John Kendall Hawkins is an American ex-pat freelancer based in Australia.  He is a former reporter for The New Bedford Standard-Times.

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