Matt Tiabbi: Something About This Russia Story Stinks

Nearly a decade and a half after the Iraq-WMD faceplant, the American press is again asked to co-sign a dubious intelligence assessment

The Obama administration announced this week that nearly three dozen Russian nationals will be expelled from the country. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
In an extraordinary development Thursday, the Obama administration announced a series of sanctions against Russia. Thirty-five Russian nationals will be expelled from the country. President Obama issued a terse statement seeming to blame Russia for the hack of the Democratic National Committee emails.

“These data theft and disclosure activities could only have been directed by the highest levels of the Russian government,” he wrote.
Russia at first pledged, darkly, to retaliate, then backed off. The Russian press today is even reporting that Vladimir Putin is inviting “the children of American diplomats” to “visit the Christmas tree in the Kremlin,” as characteristically loathsome/menacing/sarcastic a Putin response as you’ll find.
This dramatic story puts the news media in a jackpot. Absent independent verification, reporters will have to rely upon the secret assessments of intelligence agencies to cover the story at all.
Many reporters I know are quietly freaking out about having to go through that again. We all remember the WMD fiasco.
“It’s déjà vu all over again” is how one friend put it.
You can see awkwardness reflected in the headlines that flew around the Internet Thursday. Some news agencies seemed split on whether to unequivocally declare that Russian hacking took place, or whether to hedge bets and put it all on the government to make that declaration, using “Obama says” formulations.
The New York Times was more aggressive, writing flatly, “Obama Strikes Back at Russia for Election Hacking.” It backed up its story with a link to a joint FBI/Homeland Security report that details how Russian civilian and military intelligence services (termed “RIS” in the report) twice breached the defenses of “a U.S. political party,” presumably the Democrats.
This report is long on jargon but short on specifics. More than half of it is just a list of suggestions for preventive measures.
At one point we learn that the code name the U.S. intelligence community has given to Russian cyber shenanigans is GRIZZLY STEPPE, a sexy enough detail.
But we don’t learn much at all about what led our government to determine a) that these hacks were directed by the Russian government, or b) they were undertaken with the aim of influencing the election, and in particular to help elect Donald Trump.
The problem with this story is that, like the Iraq-WMD mess, it takes place in the middle of a highly politicized environment during which the motives of all the relevant actors are suspect. Nothing quite adds up.
If the American security agencies had smoking-gun evidence that the Russians had an organized campaign to derail the U.S. presidential election and deliver the White House to Trump, then expelling a few dozen diplomats after the election seems like an oddly weak and ill-timed response. Voices in both parties are saying this now.
“Not much happens in Russia without Vladimir Putin,” President Obama said in a December 16th news conference while discussing Russian hacking allegations. The Asahi Shimbun/Getty
Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham noted the “small price” Russia paid for its “brazen attack.” The Democratic National Committee, meanwhile, said Thursday that taken alone, the Obama response is “insufficient” as a response to “attacks on the United States by a foreign power.”
The “small price” is an eyebrow-raiser. Also, like the WMD story, there’s an element of salesmanship the government is using to push the hacking narrative that should make reporters nervous. Take this line in Obama’s statement about mistreatment of American diplomats in Moscow:
“Moreover, our diplomats have experienced an unacceptable level of harassment in Moscow by Russian security services and police over the last year.”
This appears to refer to an incident this summer in which an American diplomat was beaten outside the diplomatic compound in Moscow. That followed a 2013 case in which a U.S. diplomat named Ryan Fogle was arrested in similar fashion.
Fogle was unequivocally described as a CIA agent in many Russian reports. Photos of Fogle’s shpionsky rekvisit, or spy kit – including wigs and a city map that were allegedly on his person – became the source of many jokes in the Russian press and social media. Similar to this hacking story here in the states, ordinary Russians seemed split on what to believe.
If the Russians messed with an election, that’s enough on its own to warrant a massive response – miles worse than heavy-handed responses to ordinary spying episodes. Obama mentioning these humdrum tradecraft skirmishes feels like he’s throwing something in to bolster an otherwise thin case.
Adding to the problem is that in the last months of the campaign, and also in the time since the election, we’ve seen an epidemic of factually loose, clearly politically motivated reporting about Russia. Democrat-leaning pundits have been unnervingly quick to use phrases like “Russia hacked the election.”
This has led to widespread confusion among news audiences over whether the Russians hacked the DNC emails (a story that has at least been backed by some evidence, even if it hasn’t always been great evidence), or whether Russians hacked vote tallies in critical states (a far more outlandish tale backed by no credible evidence).
As noted in The Intercept and other outlets, an Economist/YouGov poll conducted this month shows that 50 percent of all Clinton voters believe the Russians hacked vote tallies.
This number is nearly as disturbing as the 62 percent of Trump voters who believe the preposterous, un-sourced Trump/Alex Jones contention that “millions” of undocumented immigrants voted in the election.

A December 19th anti-Trump protest in Pennsylvania. Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Then there was the episode in which the Washington Post ran that breathless story about Russians aiding the spread of “fake news.” That irresponsible story turned out to have been largely based on one highly dubious source called “PropOrNot” that identified 200 different American alternative media organizations as “useful idiots” of the Russian state.
The Post eventually distanced itself from the story, saying it “does not itself vouch for the validity of PropOrNot’s findings.” This was a very strange thing to say in a statement that isn’t an outright retraction. The idea that it’s OK to publish an allegation when you yourself are not confident in what your source is saying is a major departure from what was previously thought to be the norm in a paper like the Post.
There have been other excesses. An interview with Julian Assange by an Italian newspaper has been bastardized in Western re-writes, with papers like The Guardian crediting Assange with “praise” of Trump and seemingly flattering comments about Russia that are not supported by the actual text. (The Guardian has now “amended” a number of the passages in the report in question).
And reports by some Democrat-friendly reporters – like Kurt Eichenwald, who has birthed some real head-scratchers this year, including what he admitted was a baseless claim that Trump spent time in an institution in 1990 – have attempted to argue that Trump surrogates may have been liaising with the Russians because they either visited Russia or appeared on the RT network. Similar reporting about Russian scheming has been based entirely on unnamed security sources.
Now we have this sanctions story, which presents a new conundrum. It appears that a large segment of the press is biting hard on the core allegations of electoral interference emanating from the Obama administration.
Did the Russians do it? Very possibly, in which case it should be reported to the max. But the press right now is flying blind. Plowing ahead with credulous accounts is problematic because so many different feasible scenarios are in play.
On one end of the spectrum, America could have just been the victim of a virtual coup d’etat engineered by a combination of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, which would be among the most serious things to ever happen to our democracy.
But this could also just be a cynical ass-covering campaign, by a Democratic Party that has seemed keen to deflect attention from its own electoral failures.
The outgoing Democrats could just be using an over-interpreted intelligence “assessment” to delegitimize the incoming Trump administration and force Trump into an embarrassing political situation: Does he ease up on Russia and look like a patsy, or escalate even further with a nuclear-armed power?
It could also be something in between. Perhaps the FSB didn’t commission the hack, but merely enabled it somehow. Or maybe the Russians did hack the DNC, but the WikiLeaks material actually came from someone else? There is even a published report to that effect, with a former British ambassador as a source, not that it’s any more believable than anything else here.
We just don’t know, which is the problem.
We ought to have learned from the Judith Miller episode. Not only do governments lie, they won’t hesitate to burn news agencies. In a desperate moment, they’ll use any sucker they can find to get a point across.
I have no problem believing that Vladimir Putin tried to influence the American election. He’s gangster-spook-scum of the lowest order and capable of anything. And Donald Trump, too, was swine enough during the campaign to publicly hope the Russians would disclose Hillary Clinton’s emails. So a lot of this is very believable.
But we’ve been burned before in stories like this, to disastrous effect. Which makes it surprising we’re not trying harder to avoid getting fooled again.

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12 thoughts on “Matt Tiabbi: Something About This Russia Story Stinks”

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  2. This is the time to demand clean, accurate and legal elections at all levels. Paper ballots, required photo id to vote, must be a citizen, alive, one vote per person and your index finger dipped in ink that doesn't wash off for a week.

    Improper elections leads to bad public policies.

  3. There was NO "Russian hacking". The story was planted in the mysterious "PropOrNot" web site to be promoted via The Washington Post. John Brennan, Director of the CIA: Barack Obama, President of the United States; The New York Times and The Washington Post have given it a specious air of credibility, which has generated response from members of Congress who are playing politics.

    The recount in Wisconsin showed no hacking. Michigan showed massive fraud ON BEHALF OF HILLARY. It was impossible to do a recount in Pennsylvania, because they use touch-screen machines that leave no record to check. Richard Charnin, a brilliant statistician and author of three books on the theft of elections, the last being on the DNC stealing the nomination from Bernie Sanders, has explain that the election was rigged FOR HILLARY, but the vote simply overwhelmed the attempt to steal it.

    Charnin, whose interview with me can be found archived at under "Host Archives" for "The Raw Deal" on 1 December 2016, explained that at least seven stated given to Hillary had actually been won by Trump, including New Hampshire, Colorado and Nevada. Even Attorney General Loretta Lynch has confirmed that there was no Russian hacking. The arrogance of the perps (Brennan, Obama, NYT and WP) to deceive and mislead the American people is ALMOST beyond belief. But THE BIG LIE is their modus operandi.

  4. Matt, you just burned every bit of credibility you had built up with me over the past few years. Why? You seem normal but act like an idiot. I hope you will try to get a clearer view of Mr Putin in the next few days. If you do then you won't ever regain any street cred with me but you may just align your words with your external personna and your apparent normalcy. Sad it is that I write so – let's hope for a better time when old bitterness no longer rules the minds of our media.

  5. we are supposed to believe that the Russians hacked the democrat servers but somehow Hillary's home battery of servers housing the most sensitive secrets of the usg were safe? Hillary was selling state secrets to the Saudis and Israelis – the whore was a total menace to us security. I hope she is dead.

  6. Rolling Stone put my comments "in moderation" while others just popped right past me, in other words, they are gone.
    Here is the comment that I saved, glad to have somewhere to paste it.
    Where in hell is the real Matt Taibbi? He would never have abandoned the children that are being stolen, raped and murdered by satanists of BOTH parties. He would not have ignored brave cops like Jim Rothstein and Ted Gunderson who tried to tell us years ago about this filth at the top.
    The real Matt wouldn't join in this absurd "Russian aggression" propaganda to enrich the banksters and war profiteers. He would not be sucking John Podesta's cloven hooves by ignoring the truth that citizen investigators from around the world are now uncovering at last. Perhaps Matt was secretly taken, like Assange. God help us and Angels protect the children.

  7. "The Great American Bubble Machine" by Taibbi exposed the Mortgage Backed Security, Credit-Default Swap, TARP scam, but Stoners could not see that Carbon Climate forcing is the same type scam.

    "True Story of Romney and Bain" by Taibbi exposed Willard as puppet, but Stoners ignore same on Slick Willy, Obombie and Reptillary.

    Andrew Breitbart and Michael Hastings were snuffed over Podesta/Petraus/Ping Pong Pizza cult info….

    theInternationalReporter > "Podesta Art Collection"…. the massive birth defects from US Depleted Uranium weapons….

    Share Truth….End feudalism in 2017….

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