See update at end of article:
I’ll have to confess to having an uneasy moment when I saw the first headlines about this story. Most of them blared out the same phrase or a close variation thereof: Bolton suggests Russian election hacks were ‘false flag’ by Obama administration. The speaker in question was, of course, former UN Ambassador John Bolton, currently under consideration for a spot in the Trump administration. No matter what the substance underlying the statement might be, this story had all the hallmarks of an “uh oh” moment for the GOP in general and the President Elect in particular.
Digging into the details and watching the video, it really didn’t get any better. (Washington Post)
In an interview with Eric Shawn of Fox News, Bolton claimed the Obama administration had “politicized” intelligence and suggested there may have been a hidden motive behind the CIA’s finding that Russians hacked computer networks belonging to the Democratic and Republican national committees. He questioned why the FBI did not uncover similar evidence of meddling by foreign intelligence services when it investigated Hillary Clinton’s private email server.
“It’s not at all clear to me just viewing this from the outside that this hacking into the DNC and the RNC computers was not a false flag operation,” Bolton said. “The question that has to be asked is, why did the Russians run their smart intelligence service against Hillary’s server but their dumb intelligence services against the election?”
Just to get this out of the way up front, I tend to like John Bolton. I had my own misgivings about him back during the Bush 43 administration because it struck me as problematic to appoint someone as the ambassador to an organization he once viewed as being in need of some renovations in the form of blowing the top several stories off their headquarters. But as time went on I grew to appreciate many more of his positions and his no-nonsense attitude toward the world. We interviewed him back in February of 2015 when he was contemplating his own presidential bid and I found him to be engaging, intelligent and impressive.
But his choice to weigh in on the Russian hacking debate in this fashion was, er… questionable to say the least. (Particularly if you’re currently angling for a high level position at the State Department.) I have questions about the way the hacking scheme is being portrayed myself, but tossing out the false flag operation charge is several degrees over the line unless he’s got something to back that up.
For those not familiar, a false flag op is a term generally applied to accusations that some incident is being deceptively blamed on a different government or group when it was actually a covert operation undertaken by your own team. Bringing it up in this context leaves the media plenty of room to suggest that Bolton thinks that our own government hacked into the DNC’s computer systems and dumped the information out to a third party. Again… unless he’s got ironclad proof of something that absolutely nobody else has so much as suggested so far, that puts us well across the border into tinfoil hat territory.
Now if what Bolton was referring to was the spin being applied to the story in terms of when the details were released and the motivations being assigned to the Russians by some (though not all) of our intelligence agencies, no problem. I’m all on board with that. This story is being twisted in ways that would leave Nadia Comăneci with several dislocated joints. In a wholly predictable way, the political parties are taking what they like best from the story and attempting to score some points off of it. But that’s very different from even implying that the White House was behind the hack as some sort of master plan to drum up sympathy for Hillary Clinton. That’s not only unlikely in the extreme, but it would be a strategy so incredibly tone deaf that even Obama’s team wouldn’t dream it up in my opinion.
Hopefully Bolton will have multiple opportunities to walk this one back and clarify what he was talking about. Otherwise, this marks a very inauspicious start to the next phase of his government service if Donald Trump is really getting ready to offer him a job.
UPDATE: We received feedback from Ambassador Bolton’s office after this article was published. He would like to make it clear that he was not talking about the Obama administration running the false flag operation, but rather foreign entities such as China, North Korea, Iran, etc.
“There were reports yesterday that I thought the Obama administration had conducted the hack.. I never believed that. I don’t believe it today. What I do think the administration has done consistently for eight years is politicize intelligence.”