Robert Muellers investigation into the 2016 presidential election is predicated on Russian intelligence having hacked the Democratic National Committees computers. Russias guilt is such an article of faith among our political class, that a Republican-controlled Congress imposed sanctions and President Trump signed on, substantially worsening relations with an important and potentially dangerous nation.
Outside the Acela Corridor, however, one finds more skepticism.
A lot of ordinary folks wonder why the DNC wouldnt let any outside parties examine their server. Instead, the FBI accepted the word of CrowdStrike, a private contractor hired by the DNC, without any independent confirmation.
And a bunch of not so ordinary folks who know a thing or two about computers thinks there may be a simple explanation for the DNCs unwillingness to let outsiders have a peek at the evidence: There isnt any. The Russian hacking thats caused so much division and turmoil at home and abroad never really happened. It was all a ruse concocted by CrowdStrike.
One such skeptic is an anonymous journalist and computer aficionado who goes by the pseudonym Adam Carter. Carter has spent the last couple of years cataloging evidence, unearthed by himself and others, that CrowdStrike engaged in a disinformation campaign, inventing not just a fake Russian hack but also a fake hacker called Guccifer 2.0. Much, but by no means all, of Carters evidence is technical. And hes unquestionably found an inconsistency in the Russia narrative that ought to raise doubts in even the most computer illiterate congressmans mind.
Julian Assanges ThreatBut first, why on earth would a private contractor hired by the DNC engage in such tactics? For motive, we need to go back to June 12, 2016, when Wikileaks founder Julian Assange made an announcement that was sure to worry Hillary Clinton and her closest advisers:
We have upcoming leaks in relation to Hillary Clinton . . . We have emails pending publication.
A little less than three months earlier, on March 19, hostile actors had gotten ahold of all the emails in campaign chairman John Podestas main Gmail account. You may have heard that Podestas emails were hacked, but they werent. There were no faraway cyber-nerds searching for some vulnerability in the DNC network. He fell for a common spear phishing scam. A fake email from Google arrived, saying he needed to change his password and providing a link. The link was also fake. Instead of changing his password, Podesta gave it awayalong with all of his campaign emails.
The Clinton campaign learned of Podestas blunder almost immediately and must have suspected that the emails Assange was threatening to release were his. Moreover, on that date, a lot of the revelations contained therein would have been salientand not in a good way.
Just six days before, with Clinton still 570 delegates short of the 2,382 needed to win the Democratic nomination, the Associated Press angered Bernie Sanders and his supporters by claiming that shed already won. The New York Times, CNN, NBCNews, USA Today, and The Washington Post all followed suit, declaring Sanders loss a fait accompli.
But it wasnt.
The AP arrived at its numbers by polling unpledged superdelegates, who couldnt vote until the convention and were free to change their minds or even to deceive the AP.
Sanders supporters had been angry about the role superdelegates played in the nominating process for months. Sanders himself complained about it just one week before Assanges announcement and a day before the media began writing his campaigns obituary:
My problem is that the process today has allowed Secretary Clinton to get the support of over 400 superdelegates before any other Democratic candidate was in the race.
The next days headlines prematurely declaring Clintons victory brought Sanders supporters long-simmering anger to a boil. His spokesman blasted the corporate medias rush to judgement:
Secretary Clinton does not have and will not have the requisite number of pledged delegates to secure the nomination. She will be dependent on superdelegates who do not vote until July 25 and who can change their minds between now and then.
For the rest of the week, the big election story was whether Sanders would exit the race gracefully and encourage his followers to forgive, forget, and rally round Hillary Clinton. But just 12 hours after Assanges announcement, Sanders emerged from a meeting with his top advisors, refusing to concede and reiterating his determination not to let the media gaslight his candidacy into a lost cause:
[W]e are going to take our campaign to the convention with the full understanding that were very good in arithmetic and that we know who has received the most votes up until now.
The Immensity of Podestas BlunderPodestas blunder had the potential to damage Hillary Clintons already precarious reputation with voters regardless of their feelings about Bernie Sanders. In some of his pilfered emails, top Clinton advisors, including Podesta himself, insulted herabilitiesandher ethics, commented on her poorhealth, made disparaging remarks about Catholics,Muslims, blacks, and Latinos, and complained that Clinton wanted unaware and compliant voters.
Many of Podestas emails also contradict claims made in defense of the private email server Clinton used as Secretary of State. Others reveal that the FBI investigation into the matter was anything but unbiased. At a minimum, the emails prove the Clinton campaign knew from the beginning that she was breaking the law.
Its easy to forget how serious an issue Clintons private server was on June 12, 2016, three weeks before FBI Director James Comey publicly exonerated her. A few weeks earlier, the State Department had sharply rebuked Clinton for violating department rules, generating unpleasant headlines like, Hillary Clintons email problems just got much worse.
A June 1 Morning Consult poll found that about half of voters thought her private email server was illegal, unethical and a major problem, with a quarter of Democrats agreeing. Theres little question that Assanges threat would have made the poll disturbingly salient to Clinton and her top advisers.
But, given Sanders supporters anger and Clintons need for their enthusiastic support to prevail against Trump, her team would have been more concerned about emails revealing her disdain for Sanders supporters and some of their most beloved progressive policies.
For example, Clinton secretly opposed gay marriage and supported fracking. She and other top campaign officials regularly insulted Sanders and his supporters. Making matters worse, Podestas emails also revealed that CNN contributor Donna Brazile gave Clinton at least three questions in advance for her debates with Sanders. And an extraordinary number of emails confirm Sanders supporters suspicions that the DNC and the mainstream mediawere colluding with Clinton to torpedo his candidacy from its inception.
But perhaps the most troubling of Podestas emails would have been those containing passages from speeches Clinton gave to Goldman Sachs and other big money outfits at $225,000 a pop. In these speeches, Clinton downplayed Wall Streets role in the 2008 recession and said big money bankers themselves are best equipped to write any necessary legislation.
Clinton in those speeches also conceded that her economic fortunes put her obviously out of touch with the struggles middle-class voters face. She further admitted that she has distinct public and private positions on political issues, and revealed that she secretly favors open borders.
Like the controversy over her private server, Clinton weathered this storm so well that its hard to remember how much her unreleased speeches alarmed Sanders supporters, to whom she was little more than a corporate shill. Sanders had been using Clintons speeches as a laugh linein his own stump speeches for months:
If youre going to give a speech for $225,000 its gotta be really, dont you think an extraordinarily brilliant speech, I mean why else would they pay that kind of money? . . . Must be a speech written in Shakespearean prose. So I think, if it is such a fantastic speech, the secretary should make it available to all of us.
To make matters worse, three weeks before Assanges announcement, Clinton released a mandatory financial statement that brought her Wall Street speeches to the forefront of campaign news, yielding headlines like, How corporate America bought Hillary Clinton for $21Mand The massive scale of the Clintons speech-making industry.
A few days later, reporters even annoyed President Obama at a G7 summit in Japan by asking him whether she ought to release her speeches. On June 1, just 11 days before Assanges announcement, a Morning Consult poll had 64 percent of voters saying she should, including two-thirds of independents and almost half of Democrats.
Some readers have likely forgotten the many serious political headaches Hillary Clinton suffered in the week preceding Assanges June 12 announcement and how desperately she needed to placate Sanders angry supporters. If you werent too distracted by the Russia narrative, however, you probably remember some of the above revelations from Podestas emails that would have made doing so impossible had Assange not given Clintons camp so much time to prepare.
By October 7, when Wikileaks finally began releasing Podestas emails, Democrats had been taught to tune them out by angrily reciting the mantras Putin and Russia. CNN told viewers it would be illegal for folks who didnt work for CNN or some other CNN-approved corporation to so much as look at the emails. Trump couldnt push Wikileaks because doing so immediately rebounded back at him, raising worries he might be Putins puppet, rather than reflecting poorly on Clinton.
Clinton Uses the Russia Narrative to Great EffectWhether Adam Carter is right that the DNC hack was a ruse designed to deflect the damaging Podesta emails, there is no question Clinton and her surrogates were instantly prepared to use it for that purpose.
Within hours of Assanges October 7 release, Podesta made a transparent attempt on Twitter to tie anything damaging in his emails to insidious Russian interference:
Clinton first publicly addressed Podestas emails 12 days later in her third debate with Trump:
But you are very clearly quoting from WikiLeaks. What is really important about WikiLeaks is that the Russian government has engaged in espionage against Americans. They have hacked American websites, American accounts of private people, of institutions. Then they have given that information to WikiLeaks for the purpose of putting it on the internet. This has come from the highest levels of the Russian government. Clearly from Putin himself in an effort, as 17 of our intelligence agencies have confirmed, to influence our election. So, I actually think the most important question of this evening, Chris, is finally, will Donald Trump admit and condemn that the Russians are doing this, and make it clear that he will not have the help of Putin in this election.
A more transparent attempt to tie Wikileaks, espionage against Americans, Russian government, and Donald Trump to any damaging disclosures that might surface from Podestas emails would be impossible.
So, by October 7 tainting Podestas emails with a Russian provenance was demonstrably the Clinton campaigns go-to strategy. But a Washington Post story about the DNC hack published two days after June 12 Assanges threat on June 12 shows the strategy was prepared much earlier.
CrowdStrikes Remarkable Announcement and Guccifer 2.0s DebutThe June 14 Washington Post article is the first time the DNC went public about the alleged Russian hack. It includes the detail that the hackers stole a file of Trump opposition research; which, though no ordinary readers could have known it at the time, would turn up months later when Wikileaks released Podestas emails.
Indeed, this detail is also the articles big takeaway, as its mentioned in both the lead sentence and the headline: Russian government hackers penetrated DNC, stole opposition research on Trump.
The story extensively quotes CrowdStrike President Shawn Henry, who previously headed the FBIs cybersecurity division, and Chief Technology Officer Dmitri Alperovitch; all information was provided voluntarily by CrowdStrike and the DNC. According to Alperovitch, they decide[d] to go public with information about their incident and give us permission to share our knowledge.
So, why did the DNC want the world to know on June 14 the embarrassing fact that the Russians had hacked their server and the content of one pilfered file?
Alperovitch says they wanted to help protect even those who do not happen to be [CrowdStrike] customers. But they must have had a more self-interested motive to justify again publicly connecting Hillary Clintons name to lost emails and unsecure servers while Comeys investigation was still a very serious campaign issue.
Clintons team had to suspect Assange had Podestas emails and knew the Trump opposition-research file was among them. So announcing that the Russians had stolen the file two days after Assanges threat is, in hindsight, either an incredible coincidence or the first step in a strategy to taint the damaging information in Podestas emails with Russian perfidy.
But CrowdStrike and the DNC werent the only ones calling attention to the stolen Trump opposition file. The very next day, a new actor appeared, calling himself Guccifer 2.0, and claiming to be the very hacker mentioned by Alperovitch in the Washington Post story.
And, to prove it, he posted 230 pages of Trump opposition research on his newly minted blog and emailed copies to Gawker and The Smoking Gun.
We are now supposed to think that Guccifer 2.0 was a Russian spy passing documents he hacked from the DNC server to Wikileaks. In fact, this is the only evidence that Russia hacked the DNC besides CrowdStrikes unverified examination of their server.
But if G2 really is a Russian spy, Russia ought to be pitied rather than sanctioned.
When he debuted taking credit for the hack mentioned in the previous days Post, G2 made no attempt to deny he was a Russian spy. Anyone reading his blog post who was also familiar with the Poststory would assume that he must be a Russian spy as it claims. Would a real Russian spy pretending to be something else connect himself to a report outing him as a Russian spy without denying it? Why would he connect himself to such a report at all?
Would a real Russian spy trying to hide his identity end the second sentence in his first blog post with ))), the symbol that Russians use in place of our lol. G2 did.
And, would a Russian spy working with Wikileaks to discredit Hillary Clinton announce to the world that hes working with Wikileaks? G2s advertising that connection, not denying hes a Russian spy, and using Russian emoticons had the completely predictable effect of tying Assange to Putin and thus discrediting any Wikileaks releases that might otherwise have harmed Clinton.
G2 denied being Russian only after it emerged that he left Russian fingerprints all over the documents he released. Odd enough by itself, given the superb operational tradecraft, attributed to him by Alperovitch.
But Carter and his intrepid virtual friends examination of the fingerprints revealed that, rather than accidentally leaving them, G2 went out of his way to plant them.
The first evidence of Russian involvement was found within hours of G2s June 15 debut. Someone at Gawker looked at the metadata in the files he sent and discovered the name of the founder of the Soviet secret police written in the Russian alphabet! No real Russian spy would be so careless. And if we werent so desperate for sensational news, a Gawker reporter finding evidence connecting G2 with Russian intel mere hours after his debut by itself would have raised red flags about the Russia narrative.
G2 also chose to use a company based in Russia to cloak his IP address. Even then, there are plenty of email providers that would conceal the Russian IP. Yet G2, who Hillary Clinton suggested clearly took orders directly from KGB prodigy Vladimir Putin, somehow chose one that didnt.
If G2 had simply done nothing, there would have been nothing connecting Wikileaks to Russia. Instead of doing nothing, he went out of his way to connect Wikileaks Clinton releases to Russian intelligence. Yet, somehow, were supposed to think he was out to hurt Clinton. And, despite claiming to be Clintons enemy, neither the Trump opposition file nor any of the other files he released with it contained anything damaging to her.
So a Russian spy intent on getting Trump elected released 230 pages of damaging information on Trump but nothing negative about Hillary Clinton?
Viewed in quick and haphazard slices, G2s debut may look like a collaboration with Putin and Assange. But Russian spies trying to hide their identity dont openly confess to crimes the Washington Post has attributed to Russian spies the day before.
Nor do they use Russian emoticons.
Nor do they reveal their connections to organizations secretly shilling for them.
Nor do they intentionally plant evidence of their identity.
And when Russian spies release 230 pages of negative information about Donald Trump, its Trump, and not his enemies, they are trying to harm.
When we widen our view, the suggestion that G2 is a Russian spy is revealed as a naked insult to the nations intelligence.
Where Did Guccifer 2.0 Get the Trump File?Hindsight together with Carter and crews hard work shows that G2, rather than trying to harm Clinton, worked to manufacture a fake connection between Assange and Russian intel. This fake connection would later be used by Clinton to deflect the avalanche of damaging information in Podestas emails when Assange released them.
The Washington Post headline that the Russians hacked a Trump opposition document from the DNC set the stage. But the article made no mention of Assange or Wikileaks. So, considered alone, it had zero potential to discredit any damaging Wikileaks releases.
G2 forged the crucial link to Assange the next day; by taking credit for the hack and claiming to have turned over the spoils to Wikileaks. His release of the Trump opposition file, which would later turn up when Wikileaks finally released Podestas emails, would also then provide confirmation for his story about being the hacker; and, as a result, strengthen the links between Putin and Assange he was creating.
Absent G2 bringing Wikileaks into the picture, the Washington Post story would have informed voters of an embarrassing Russian DNC hack of some Trump opposition research, without any mitigating way to connect those Russians to Julian Assange, and thereby discrediting him.
So the information released to the Post serves no purpose and, indeed, would harm Clinton, unless CrowdStrike knew G2 would immediately enter the fray and shift attention away from Russian intels breach of the DNC server and towards speculation about Russian intels connection to Wikileaks.
But theres another more conclusive reason to think that G2 had to be working with CrowdStrike and Hillary Clinton.
Remember, on June 15, Guccifer 2.0 emailed a Trump opposition file to Gawker and The Smoking Gunand posted it on his blog. But we now know, apart from the Russian fingerprints he planted, the very same Trump opposition file was among Podestas emails when Assange released them four months later.
So, how did G2 get ahold of a file from John Podestas emails? Thats what Adam Carter wants everyone to start asking.
Since G2 manifestly isnt the implacable enemy of Hillary Clinton he pretended to be, its unlikely that he hacked the DNC server as claimed. And, Carter and other experts say, his claims arent technically credible, anyway.
Given how hard G2 worked to discredit Wikileaks, neither is it credible that he got the file through them.
Without the Trump file, G2 might have just been some unconnected third-party trolling Julian Assange. But the fact that G2 possessed a file from Podestas emails seems inexplicable, given everything else we now know, unless G2 is part of a CrowdStrike disinformation campaign to protect Hillary Clinton from the consequences of John Podestas blunder.
The foundations of both Robert Muellers investigation and the sanctions placed on Russia appear to have crumbled into dust.
Lets hope our political class notices.
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Julian Assange, CrowdStrike, and the Russian Hack That Wasnt …