First the CIA blew off House Homeland Security chair Devin Nunes’ request for a briefing on Russian hacks in the 2016 election cycle. James Clapper told Nunes that the CIA’s investigation wasn’t complete — despite leaks to national media outlets on their conclusions. Nunes’ counterpart in the Senate said the same thing happened to him, and he’s not happy about getting stonewalled while “the Washington Post and NBC” are getting briefed:
Senate Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson on Friday said the CIA denied his request for a briefing on its findings about Russian cyberattacks allegedly designed to influence the election.
“I’m not happy they denied a briefing to me,” the Wisconsin Republican told a public radio interviewer in his home state on Friday morning. “I need information from the administration, and right now they’re withholding it.”
He added in a statement: “It is disappointing that the CIA would provide information on this issue to the Washington Post and NBC but will not provide information to elected members of Congress.”
In his statement to Nunes, Clapper wrote that the intelligence committees had been regularly briefed on the issue before the election. Johnson responded today by accusing the CIA of changing its analysis in the last few weeks, after a September briefing assured him that the Russians couldn’t interfere with the election process:
“They were assuring everybody there was no way Russia could hack our voting machines,” Johnson told Wisconsin Public Radio. “I don’t know what changed from that briefing to this in terms of additional information.”
Perhaps the question isn’t what happened between those two briefings, but what happened in 2014 and 2015. Over a year ago, intelligence analyst John Schindler warned that the Obama administration had killed off an effort to combat Russian propaganda, which had recently ramped up its efforts in the West. Even the shoestring effort by the State Department was too much for Barack Obama and John Kerry:
Nearly a year ago, the State Department created a Counter-Disinformation Team, inside its Bureau of International Information Programs, as a small, start-up effort to resist Russian disinformation. Consisting of only a handful of staffers, it was supposed to expose the most laughable Moscow lies about America and the West that are disseminated regularly via RT and other outlets. They created a beta website and prepared to wage the struggle for truth online.
Alas, their website never went live. Recently the State Department shut down the tiny Counter-Disinformation Team and any efforts by the Obama administration to resist Putin’s propaganda can now be considered dead before birth. Intelligence Community sources tell me that it was closed out of a deep desire inside the White House “not to upset the Russians.” …
Who killed the Counter-Disinformation Team and why? What did the team produce during the time it existed? What has become of this product? How many people were on it? Does the State Department not consider countering Kremlin disinformation to be in its remit? Does the White House agree? What about the National Security Council? Is anybody in the U.S. government authorized to debunk Putin’s lies – if so, who? If not, why not?
It’s clear that Barack Obama rejects the notion that we are in any Cold War 2.0 with Russia, Putin’s recent military moves in Syria notwithstanding, even though a great many foreign policy mavens would disagree. All that can be stated for certain is that it’s a sad day when the European Union, perhaps the most risk-averse and bureaucratically arteriosclerotic organization on earth, can manage to fight back against Kremlin disinformation while Barack Obama, twenty months after Putin seized Crimea, still cannot be bothered to.
Schindler reminds his readers today about that failure:
Democrats are clamoring for a Congressional investigation of clandestine Russian operations which influenced our election this year, and that’s a great idea. At the outset, they should demand that the White House answer the questions I asked a year ago—they are the logical place to start any inquiry into what went wrong in Washington, and why.
It’s past time to ditch wishful thinking and embrace clarity, what spies term “ground truth.” Russian intelligence interfered with American democracy this year. The extent of its impact on our election is debatable, and may not be fully understood for years. However, the blame for Russian disinformation damaging Hillary Clinton and her party—in particular, the lack of any pushback from Washington, which allowed the Kremlin’s deception machine to go into overdrive—lies not with Donald Trump or the Republicans, but with Barack Obama himself.
I’m still skeptical that the Russians took particular aim at the woman who handed them a reset button in 2009, and then control over a chunk of the US’ uranium assets in the Uranium One deal before leaving office in 2013. Here’s a reminder from the New York Times about Russian dealings with the Clintons:
Beyond mines in Kazakhstan that are among the most lucrative in the world, the sale gave the Russians control of one-fifth of all uranium production capacity in the United States. Since uranium is considered a strategic asset, with implications for national security, the deal had to be approved by a committee composed of representatives from a number of United States government agencies. Among the agencies that eventually signed off was the State Department, then headed by Mr. Clinton’s wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
As the Russians gradually assumed control of Uranium One in three separate transactions from 2009 to 2013, Canadian records show, a flow of cash made its way to the Clinton Foundation. Uranium One’s chairman used his family foundation to make four donations totaling $2.35 million. Those contributions were not publicly disclosed by the Clintons, despite an agreement Mrs. Clinton had struck with the Obama White House to publicly identify all donors. Other people with ties to the company made donations as well.
And shortly after the Russians announced their intention to acquire a majority stake in Uranium One, Mr. Clinton received $500,000 for a Moscow speech from a Russian investment bank with links to the Kremlin that was promoting Uranium One stock.
The explanation that Russia wanted to disrupt American politics in general makes a lot more sense, and should be thoroughly investigated. That investigation should demand explanations as to why Obama, Kerry, and even Hillary Clinton didn’t prepare any counter-disinformation response to Russian propaganda, let alone an effective response.