Operation American Greatness: Russiagate Links 15 Dec 2016

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Putin confidently executed a strategic spy operation against our election, specifically to harm the Democrats and their presidential nominee. Russia’s president didn’t fear retribution, as he correctly assessed that Obama was too timid and eager to win Russian favor to respond in any meaningful way. After all, the White House in 2015 quashed a tiny State Department effort to counter Kremlin disinformation, which was taken in Moscow as a green light to put their spies-telling-lies machine into overdrive.

Moreover, Putin knew what the Obama administration would (and would not) do about this massive and aggressive jump in the SpyWar thanks to his moles in Washington. It seems highly likely, based on available evidence, that Russian intelligence has been reading secret U.S. communications for years—that’s what moles inside NSA are for—which would give Putin the ability to beat American spies every step of the way, not to mention deep insights into top-level decision-making in Washington.

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I have a sense that Americans are only now beginning to realize what has happened. Even leading Republicans are demanding to know what is going on. But unless something even more extraordinary occurs in the next few weeks, Russia’s American coup has already succeeded. No matter what happens next, the United States, its institutions, its place in the world, all have been left dangerously weakened, fractured, diminished.

European leaders are openly questioning America’s role in NATO. Beijing is flying nuclear bombers over the South China Sea. Russian and Syrian troops are retaking Aleppo from the rebels. That’s the sound of thunder in the distance; the world has changed.

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Would such revelations weaken Putin’s hold on power? Perhaps not, most of his citizens are under no illusion over the reality of their ruling regime. But it would send a clear signal to the kleptocrats in the Kremlin as well as adversaries around the world that such asymmetric warfare tactics can and will be answered to in kind. It would make those engaging in business with Russia think twice about the reputation cost they could suffer. And it would help the American people better understand the true nature of Russia as an emerging adversary.

While the Obama administration may take a hit for making these revelations during a lame duck period, such a move could be deftly exploited by his successor even if he choses to re-engage with Moscow. After all, Donald Trump could easily distance himself from President Obama’s revelations while still benefiting from the added leverage it will offer, alongside a path to lifting sanctions. A book once said “Leverage: don’t do a deal without it.” That book? The Art of the Deal.

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“I don’t think we have even begun to wake up to what Russia is doing when it comes to cyber warfare,” the MP said during the parliamentary debate on the crisis in Aleppo.

“Not only their interference, now proven, in the American presidential campaign, probably in our referendum last year – we don’t have the evidence for that yet but I think it’s highly probable – certainly in the French presidential election they will be involved, and there are already serious concerns in the German secret service.
“We’ve got to wake up to this! When are we going to wake up to this?”

From: Labour MP Says It Is "Highly Probable" Russia Secretly Intervened In The EU Referendum - BuzzFeed News

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...[I]n 2014 and 2015, a Russian hacking group began systematically targeting the State Department, the White House and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “Each time, they eventually met with some form of success,” Michael Sulmeyer, a former cyberexpert for the secretary of defense, and Ben Buchanan, now both of the Harvard Cyber Security Project, wrote recently in a soon-to-be published paper for the Carnegie Endowment.The Russians grew stealthier and stealthier, tricking government computers into sending out data while disguising the electronic “command and control” messages that set off alarms for anyone looking for malicious actions. The State Department was so crippled that it repeatedly closed its systems to throw out the intruders. At one point, officials traveling to Vienna with Secretary of State John Kerry for the Iran nuclear negotiations had to set up commercial Gmail accounts just to communicate with one another and with reporters traveling with them.

Mr. Obama was briefed regularly on all this, but he made a decision that many in the White House now regret: He did not name Russians publicly, or issue sanctions. There was always a reason: fear of escalating a cyberwar, and concern that the United States needed Russia’s cooperation in negotiations over Syria.“We’d have all these circular meetings,” one senior State Department official said, “in which everyone agreed you had to push back at the Russians and push back hard. But it didn’t happen.”

So the Russians escalated again — breaking into systems not just for espionage, but to publish or broadcast what they found, known as “doxing” in the cyberworld.

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As analysts who have spent years studying Russia’s influence campaigns, we’re confident the spooks have it mostly right: The Kremlin ran a sophisticated, multilayered operation that aimed to sow chaos in the U.S. political system, if not to elect Trump outright. But you don’t need a security clearance or a background in spycraft to come to that conclusion. All you need to do is open your eyes.

So how did Putin do it?It wasn’t by hacking election machines or manipulating the results, as some have suggested. That would be too crude. The Kremlin’s canny operatives didn’t change votes; they won them, influencing voters to choose Russia’s preferred outcome by pushing stolen information at just the right time—through slanted, or outright false stories on social media. As we detail in our recent report, based on 30 months of closely watching Russia’s online influence operations and monitoring some 7,000 accounts, the Kremlin’s troll army swarmed the web to spread disinformation and undermine trust in the electoral system.

And America was just the latest target.

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Former CIA acting director Michael Morell called the intelligence agency’s conclusion that Russia meddled in the U.S. presidential election to help President-elect Donald Trump “the political equivalent of 9/11.”

“A foreign government messing around in our elections is, I think, an existential threat to our way of life. To me, and this is to me not an overstatement, this is the political equivalent of 9/11,” Morell said in an interview posted Sunday on The Cipher Brief. “It is huge and the fact that it hasn’t gotten more attention from the Obama Administration, Congress, and the mainstream media, is just shocking to me.”

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Just as the Central Bank was involved in recent mobilisation exercises, predicated (rightly) on the fact that any major conflict with the West would also be fought with economic instruments, I wonder how far Moscow is coming to terms with the fact that the one-way ‘political war‘ currently being waged against the West might become a two-way one, at least to a limited extent. Those who live by the hack risk dying by it, too.

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Obama is famously resistant (some have said he’s “allergic”) to escalating conflicts, especially if the conflict doesn’t threaten vital U.S. interests. But the United States has few interests more vital than assuring that a foreign power doesn’t tilt a presidential election toward a candidate that it favors. Obama and his White House aides are said to have mulled what to do about this Russian hack for “months.” I’d say they waited too long.

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Noted & Quoted

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Trump actually congratulated Erdogan on the outcome. Trump apparently thought it was a good thing that, despite all the flaws in the process, a bare majority of Turkey’s citizens voted to strengthen their populist leader. I don’t think any other post-Cold War president would have congratulated a democratic ally that held a flawed referendum leading to a less democratic outcome. This is not that far off from Trump congratulating Putin on a successful referendum result in Crimea if that event had been held in 2017 rather than 2014.

Public disquiet and behind-the-scenes pressure on key illiberal allies is an imperfect policy position. It is still a heck of a lot more consistent with America’s core interests than congratulating allies on moving in an illiberal direction. In congratulating Erdogan, Trump did the latter.

For all the talk about Trump’s moderation, for all the talk about an Axis of Adults, it’s time that American foreign policy-watchers craving normality acknowledge three brute facts:

  1. Donald Trump is the president of the United States;
  2. Trump has little comprehension of how foreign policy actually works;
  3. The few instincts that Trump applies to foreign policy are antithetical to American values.
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He sensed that the public wanted relief from the burdens of global leadership without losing the thrill of nationalist self-assertion. America could cut back its investment in world order with no whiff of retreat. It would still boss others around, even bend them to its will...

There was, to be sure, one other candidate in the 2016 field who also tried to have it both ways—more activism and more retrenchment at the same time. This was, oddly enough, Hillary Clinton... Yet merely to recall Clinton’s hybrid foreign-policy platform is to see how pallid it was next to Trump’s. While she quibbled about the TPP (which few seemed to believe she was really against), her opponent ferociously denounced all trade agreements—those still being negotiated, like the TPP, and those, like NAFTA and China’s WTO membership, that had long been on the books. “Disasters” one and all, he said. For anyone genuinely angry about globalization, it was hard to see Clinton as a stronger champion than Trump. She was at a similar disadvantage trying to compete with Trump on toughness. His anti-terrorism policy—keep Muslims out of the country and bomb isis back to the Stone Age—was wild talk, barely thought through. But for anyone who really cared about hurting America’s enemies, it gave Trump more credibility than Clinton’s vague, muddled talk of “safe zones” ever gave her.

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As they war with the right, though, Trump and Kushner would gain no quarter from Democrats—unless Democrats were allowed to set the all the terms. This is Bannon’s central point. Democrats have no incentive to prop up Trump’s presidency for half-loaf compromises that many will suspect are contaminated with seeds of Trumpism. Trump can adopt or co-opt the Democrats’ infrastructure platform outright if he likes, but he can’t easily entice them to compromise with him, and he can’t entice House Speaker Paul Ryan or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to advance a trillion dollar direct-spending bill filled with environmental and labor protections that the GOP exists to oppose.

Which is just to say, Kushner wants Trump to chart a new course that leads to a substantive dead end for at least another 19 months. Bannon’s path, at least, preserves the hope of keeping his base consolidated through the legislative ebb. He can deregulate, scapegoat, and unburden law enforcement to turn his Herrenvolk fantasy into reality—all while keeping congressional investigators at bay.

There’s no real logical rebuttal to this, except to point to three months of chaos and humiliation as indicative of the futility of continuing to do things Bannon’s way. That is really an argument that Trump should get rid of both of his top advisers, but Trump is unlikely to grasp that in a contest between loyalists, both might deserve to lose. Family loyalty, and the beating his ego will take when the stories of his first 100 days are written, will pull him toward his son-in-law. And that’s when the real fun will begin.

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State of the Discussion

+ Wade, your last paragraph is crucial to your argument. Certainly it expresses economically the source of the weight of a country's foreign policy, and [. . .]
Jeffrey Goldberg: The Obama Doctrine, R.I.P. – The Atlantic
CK MacLeod
Comments this threadCommenter Archive
+ Not sure where you got the idea that I ever wrote “[President Trump] doesn’t know what he’s doing!!!!!!" - bob's idea for a possible rallying [. . .]
Jeffrey Goldberg: The Obama Doctrine, R.I.P. – The Atlantic
Wade McKenzie
Comments this threadCommenter Archive
+ The conversation that you and Bob were having at the time that I wrote my comment had everything to do with the recent missile strike [. . .]
Jeffrey Goldberg: The Obama Doctrine, R.I.P. – The Atlantic

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