Trump and Putin at G20 in Hamburg
Credit: Алексей М/Flickr

I’m going to provide you with quote and ask you to try to imagine what publication it came from.

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. This casts serious doubt on the initial “hack,” as alleged, that led to the very consequential publication of a large store of documents on WikiLeaks last summer.

If you guessed that it came from Breitbart or InfoWars or Sean Hannity as an introduction to his conspiracy theories about Seth Rich, you’d be wrong. It comes from an article in The Nation by Patrick Lawrence. He suggests that there is evidence that completely undermines what we’ve been hearing about Russian hacking prior to the 2016 election. Eventually he names his sources.

William Binney, formerly the NSA’s technical director for world geopolitical and military analysis and designer of many agency programs now in use; Kirk Wiebe, formerly a senior analyst at the NSA’s SIGINT Automation Research Center; Edward Loomis, formerly technical director in the NSA’s Office of Signal Processing; and Ray McGovern, an intelligence analyst for nearly three decades and formerly chief of the CIA’s Soviet Foreign Policy Branch.

There are two other anonymous sources with the pseudonyms Forensicator and Adam Carter. The tie that binds the other four named sources is that they are all whistleblowers from their time working with U.S. intelligence services.

I say all of that because these are some rather explosive charges Lawrence is making. As I indicated, they sound more like the kind of thing you’d hear from right wing sites peddling conspiracy theories. This is the nature of the world we live in today where information that appears factual is published all over the internet and we are tasked with determining what to believe.

Lawrence warns that we can’t trust the intelligence services that are telling us that Russia is responsible for hacking the DNC and says, “we are urged to accept the word of institutions and senior officials with long records of deception.” He also writes that we can’t trust  reports produced by Crowdstrike—who have reported what they found on the DNC server—because it is “a firm that drips with conflicting interests well beyond the fact that it is in the DNC’s employ.”

But there are some trust issues on Lawrence’s side of the equation as well. The Nation in general and Patrick Lawrence in particular have a long history of being fairly pro-Russian and have been skeptical about their interference in the 2016 election from the beginning. Moreover, the four named sources for his conclusions are all people who have spent the last decade doing battle with U.S. intelligence services via an organization called Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.

Personally, I don’t buy the conclusions Lawrence and his sources have reached. Neither does Brian Feldman, who writes that the article is too incoherent to debunk.

…the real problem isn’t that there’s a bizarre claim about internet speed that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. It’s that Lawrence is writing in techno-gibberish that falls apart under even the slightest scrutiny. You could try to go on, but to what end?

Beyond that and the unanimous conclusions of our intelligence services, there is also the preponderance of evidence from several highly skilled journalists about how Russia’s involvement in our election was a replica of what they’ve been doing for quite a while now—especially all over Europe. I also think of things like the excellent reporting by Adrian Chen back in 2015 about Russian bots and the havoc they were working to create in this country. The Russians have not hesitated to document that this is their strategy.

Of the questions raised by charges that Russia was involved in the release of hacked Democratic National Committee emails, at least one — why would Russia do such a thing? — can be answered with a little-noticed but influential 2013 Russian military journal article.

“The very rules of war have changed,” Gen. Valery V. Gerasimov, the chief of the general staff, wrote in the Military-Industrial Courier.

The Arab Spring, according to General Gerasimov, had shown that “nonmilitary means” had overtaken the “force of weapons in their effectiveness.” Deception and disinformation, not tanks and planes, were the new tools of power. And they would be used not in formally declared conflicts but within a vast gray between peace and war.

Those ideas would appear, the next year, in Russia’s formal military doctrine. It was the culmination of a yearslong strategic reorientation that has remade Russian power, in response to threats both real and imagined, into the sort of enterprise that could be plausibly accused of using cyberattacks to meddle in an American presidential election.

The article by Lawrence demonstrates that we now live in a world where conspiracy theories are not solely the domain of right wing media. They are coming at us from all sides—although heavily weighted on one. Separating the wheat from the chaff is a skill we are all required to develop.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.