Four Key Points the Media Keep Getting Wrong on Russia, Hacking, 2016

Among other things, the alleged entities 'Fancy Bear' and 'Cozy Bear' don't exist, no matter how often reporters say they do

Reporters with three major American news organizations were caught making big errors last week — errors, in all three cases, that seemed intended to damage President Donald Trump.

But little has been said about the continuing misstatements of fact, the omissions or the inaccuracies in stories about alleged Russian interference on Trump’s behalf in the 2016 presidential election.

Let’s go through some of them.

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1.) The Russians. Did the John Podesta and Democratic National Committee emails published by WikiLeaks come from the Russians?

The one person who would know the provenance of the emails from the DNC posted on WikiLeaks July 22, 2016 — and the Podesta emails posted there starting Oct. 7, 2016 — is Julian Assange, the founder and head of WikiLeaks.

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Assange has repeatedly insisted the emails weren’t from Russia or from anyone connected with Russia or any state actor. He told Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Jan. 3, 2017, for example, that “our source is not a state party … We have said repeatedly over the last two months that our source is not the Russian government and it is not a state party.”

Yet news articles routinely state as fact that Russia “stole” the emails, contrary to Assange’s repeated denial.

2.) U.S. intelligence agencies. It is not an “established fact” that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 American presidential election. Only hand-picked analysts from the CIA, FBI and NSA, and the director of National Intelligence reached that conclusion.

Just two of the agencies said they had a “high level” of confidence in the assessment. The code-breaking NSA analysts did not have a high level of confidence. This is an important distinction since, as the liberal opinion magazine The Nation noted, “assessment” is another way of saying “opinion.” It’s not a fact.

“Few have noticed since these evasive terms first appeared that an assessment is an opinion, nothing more, and to express high confidence is an upside-down way of admitting the absence of certain knowledge,” wrote The Nation’s Patrick Lawrence.

“There was no hack of the Democratic National Committee’s system on July 5 last year — not by the Russians, not by anyone else.”

Former President Barack Obama also said during his last news conference as chief executive that “the conclusions of the intelligence community with respect to the Russian hacking were not conclusive.”

3.) Hacking. Were the emails posted by WikiLeaks from a hack of the DNC server?

“There was no hack of the Democratic National Committee’s system on July 5 last year — not by the Russians, not by anyone else. Hard science now demonstrates it was a leak — a download executed locally with a memory key or a similarly portable data-storage device. In short, it was an inside job by someone with access to the DNC’s system,” the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) concluded.

The report was written by several high-level former intelligence analysts; it took into account the findings of independent researchers that the WikiLeaks emails could not possibly have been downloaded remotely at the speeds recorded. That means that they had to be downloaded by someone inside the DNC. The VIPS group first came to public attention in 2003 when it accused then-President George W. Bush of misleading the nation about U.S. intelligence on Saddam Hussein’s nuclear program

Still, news organizations continue to report that the WikiLeaks emails were from a hack, such as a November 28 Associated Press article by Raphael Satter, son of Russia critic and journalist David Satter, who was expelled from Russia in 2013.

The younger Satter wrote that Russian hackers “worked in close alignment with the Kremlin’s interests to steal tens of thousands of emails from the Democratic Party.” He added that this hacking “disrupted the 2016 U.S. election, casting a shadow over the presidency of Donald Trump, whom U.S. intelligence agencies say the hackers were trying to help.”

4.) “Fancy Bear” and “Cozy Bear.” There are no entities by these names.

The names were given to hacking groups that were found to have breached the DNC server. The names were made up by one of the co-founders of Crowdstrike, Russian-born Dmitri Alperovitch.

U.S. intelligence agencies have given the hacking groups other names.

Yet journalists use the names “Fancy Bear” and “Cozy Bear” without putting them in quotes, or noting that these are made-up names — thus giving readers the impression these are the actual names of these groups.

Satter wrote in the AP article on November 28, “FBI Gave Heads-up to Fraction of Russian Hackers’ U.S. Targets” that “nearly 80 interviews with Americans targeted by Fancy Bear, a Russian government-aligned cyber-espionage group, turned up only two cases in which the FBI had provided a heads-up.”

PoliZette writer Margaret Menge can be reached at [email protected] 

(photo credit, homepage image: Hillary Clinton, CC BY-SA 2.0, by Gage Skidmore; photo credit, article image: Mook in 2016, cut out, CC BY-SA 4.0, by Ravensfan2000 / Hillary Clinton, cut out, CC BY-SA 2.0, by CC BY-SA 2.0, by Gage Skidmore / Center for American Progress, cut out, CC BY 2.0, by Maryland GovPics)

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