In Its Haste To Label Trump As Russia's Favorite, Clapper's Report Misses the Obvious

In Its Haste To Label Trump As Russia's Favorite, Clapper's Report Misses the Obvious

I’ve read the assessment of Russian involvement in the US election twice now and, recognizing sources and methods have been excised, one still gets the feeling that there is no there really there. For the most part I agree with the take my colleague, Caleb Howe, has on the issue.

What strikes me is how shabby the analytical framework is for a report of this significance. Arguendo, I will assume the statements of facts they make… and there are damned few of those in the report… are true. There are critical factual things we still don’t know, like the role of the largely discredited FBI/DHS report into the hacking of the DNC server in underpinning the assessment that Russia actually hacked it.

The report makes three key judgments with some subordinate points supporting each.


Russian efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election represent the most recent expression of Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine the 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.

I don’t have a problem with this statement in the least beyond the obvious observation that when China hacked the OPM personnel database and stole extensive information on 21.5 million federal employees, including background investigations for their security clearances, and nothing was done, you really lose the right to be either surprised or upset when Russia decides you are a total punk.


We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments.

We will come back to this one.


Moscow’s influence campaign followed a Russian messaging strategy that blends covert intelligence operations — such as cyber activity — with overt efforts by Russian Government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or “trolls.” Russia, like its Soviet predecessor, has a history of conducting covert influence campaigns focused on US presidential elections that have used intelligence officers and agents and press placements to disparage candidates perceived as hostile to the Kremlin.

I consider this to be a combination of a blinding flash of the obvious, so-what, and bullsh** on stilts. The report is absolutely consumed with concern for RT, the quasi-official English language Russian media outlet. They seem to be shocked that RT is spouting Kremlin propaganda. What is RT’s viewership? They don’t say, apparently RT’s viewership is not made available, but they do say it is less that Al Jazeera. Fine. What demographic areas do you think are most likely to have RT in their cable package. Here:

Westbay Invest Inc
Comcast Seattle Metropolitan Area
Cablevision Hamilton (via Mind TV)
Cablevision Monmouth Co. (via Mind TV)
Comcast Washington DC Metro Area (via MHz)
Time Warner Cable NYC and Northern New Jerse
Cox Cable Washington DC Metro Area (via MHz)
Channel Master LLC
Comcast Sacramento and Central California
RCN Cable Washington DC Metro Area (via MHz)
Verizon Fios Washington DC Metro Area (via MHz)
Verizon Fios Philadelphia (via Mind TV)
Buckeye CableSystem
Yip TV
Time Warner Cable Greater Los Angeles
Time Warner Cable San Diego and North County
Comcast Chicago and Midwest region
Comcast Philadelphia Metropolitan Area (via Mind TV)
Comcast San Francisco Greater San Francisco Bay Area

This list, is as might be expected, deceptive. I checked the listings of some of these carriers and RT is not in basic package of some of these, so even though RT is available in these areas, a significant number of subscribers don’t have access to it. They are also missing from Dish and DirectTV… which are major outlets in rural areas. This is important for reasons that will become apparent in a moment.

Suffice it to say, as part of a campaign to either help Trump OR to destroy faith in the US electoral system, empirically RT is NOT a player outside the nightmares of our intelligence agencies.

They are also consumed with fear of Russia’s twitter trolls. These folks need a hobby.

# 4

We assess Moscow will apply lessons learned from its Putin-ordered campaign aimed at the US presidential election to future influence efforts worldwide, including against US allies and their election processes.

Yep. Thus it is, thus it was, thus it shall ever be.

Let’s go back and revisit point #2 which is the contentious area. These are the supporting bullets for point #2.

We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him. All three agencies agree with this judgment. CIA and FBI have high confidence in this judgment; NSA has moderate confidence.

Moscow’s approach evolved over the course of the campaign based on Russia’s understanding of the electoral prospects of the two main candidates. When it appeared to Moscow that Secretary Clinton was likely to win the election, the Russian influence campaign began to focus more on undermining her future presidency.

Further information has come to light since Election Day that, when combined with Russian behavior since early November 2016, increases our confidence in our assessments of Russian motivations and goals.

The first bullet contains a key point. The only agency mentioned here who could reasonably have actual information on the subject is the NSA. They say maybe-maybe-not, according to their own rating scheme. That tells you something. They aren’t seeing the signals/electronic intelligence product as having the same quality as the CIA and FBI do. As the NSA is the authority, you have to give their view more credence.

From there, the assessment makes a flying leap of logic here that is either a function of the crappiest editing of a political document in modern history, dunderheaded stupidity, or partisan duplicity. While there is no, zero, evidence pointing to the Russians aiding Trump, there is some pointing at the Russians trying to hurt Clinton.

To get at motives it is best to look at actions. Otherwise, you become Barack Obama designating a shooting as ‘workplace violence’ because you ignored the screams of Allahu Akbar.

The first question is how did hacking and releasing the DNC emails and Podesta emails really hurt Clinton? As I pointed out in mid-December, there is not evidence that indicates these events had any impact whatsoever on the campaign. Clinton pulled out to a big lead in the public opinion polls right after Wikileaks released the DNC emails and Trump didn’t begin to close the gap until early September. Hillary Clinton’s favorability rating improved after the Podesta emails were leaked and she maintained a large lead over Trump in favorability through the last polls. And Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. So if the intent was really to hurt Hillary with the American electorate, this was a spectacular failure.

The second bullet is also total bullsh**. THERE WAS NEVER A POINT IN THE ELECTION CYCLE WHERE HILLARY CLINTON WAS NOT THE FRONTRUNNER. Therefore, the Russians expected, from Day One, that Hillary Clinton was going to win. They didn’t suddenly see she was winning and leap into action. Let’s go back to the topline for point #2.

We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments.

This time let’s read it and substitute Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Chris Christie, etc., etc. for Donald Trump. It still works doesn’t it? Do you know why it works? Because the Russians expected Hillary Clinton to win and they wanted to rough her up a bit.

Let’s look at the actions the undertook, again let’s forget the super secret way Wikileaks got the emails the Russians hacked. Let’s just look at the actions.

Hacking the DNC emails. First, the coverage of these emails was very superficial outside of highly partisan sites like this one. Did middle America run to to look at the emails? But who, exactly, was shocked to find that the DNC was a festering pool of corruption? Republicans? Hardly. Middle of the road voters? Nope. They know both parties are corrupt. Democrat partisans? Bingo. The hack of the DNC emails was aimed at Hillary Clinton’s base and more specifically at prominent Democrats and Democrat political operatives. They were the ones exposed. It was their gossip and backstabbing that was revealed. I follow politics and I had never heard of 95% of the people in either set of emails.

Let’s apply the same logic to John Podesta’s emails? They receive virtually zero coverage in the press and the coverage it did get was more often than not couched in the total horror of a political operative’s email getting hacked. Were you surprised that long time Clinton crony was buying and selling reporters and manipulating a lot of stuff behind the scenes? Not me. How about Democrats that were not big Hillary fans? Probably. Bernie Sanders voters, the progressive true believers? You better believe it.

Russian twitter trolls? Have you encountered one? If you aren’t wearing a Pepe-the-Frog t-shirt or going to Berkeley, odds are you haven’t, and if you did, you blocked them. While arguably they may have puffed up a small number of Trump voters… who really didn’t need puffing up… where they had the most influence was among the Democrat base.

Let’s go back to the RT distribution scheme. Which candidate carried those areas and who was more likely to listen to RT, average voters or Bernie Sanders voters? Bubba don’t listen to RT… unless they start featuring the naked weather-chicks…

The pattern is clear. The Russians, like virtually every other live human, decided back around May, when Ted Cruz dropped out of the race, that Hillary Clinton was a lock for the presidency. The Russians decided that they wanted her as dirty and damaged as possible. They didn’t devote their efforts to helping Trump. They devoted their efforts to destroying the trust the Democrat power structure and their most loyal followers had in Clinton. They knew that would damage her ability to form the alliance she would need to act. That’s why they targeted the DNC and Podesta because those leaks were only of interest to politically active people.

If Ted Cruz had won, they would have played the same game. If the GOP candidate had actually looked competitive, I’m willing to bet we would have learned a lot of fun stuff about the RNC and Trump.

Admittedly, Trump has made this whole allegation plausible because of his ties, and the ties of some of his long time cronies, to Moscow. But sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

After reading this report I am more firm than ever in my belief that labeling the Russian effort as being focused on aiding Trump is nothing more than a political smear and I hope Mike Pompeo and the other Trump appointees burn to the freakin ground anyone left in those organizations who participated in using the US Intelligence Community for this cheap partisan attack.

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