Russia

The U.S. Intelligence Community Freaks Out About Russia

The declassified CIA report comes up short.

|

The wannabe Cold War with Russia continues apace. The American political establishment has not allowed a few major blunders along the way to hinder the hazy narrative that "Russia hacked our democracy." Rather, it has doubled down by inflating cyber threats and inflaming geopolitical tensions. But this full court press on public opinion has revealed more about the opportunism and opacity of the U.S. intelligence community and its allies than it has about any specific foreign harm to the American public.

Last Friday, the intelligence community finally released a declassified version of the vaunted secret CIA report that started it all. The report contains no new technical information, and interestingly enough barely addresses any actual hacking at all. The reader will learn more about RT's Occupy Wall Street coverage than he will about election-related hacking.

The report does maintain that Russian intelligence hacked into the DNC and controlled the "Guccifer 2.0" character and DNCLeaks.org website. Notably, it also states that Russia did not interfere in vote counting systems and that the Wikileaks emails "did not contain any evident forgeries." But it does not mention the John Podesta emails once, and mostly repeats the established narrative that the Russian government strategically molded U.S. opinion to get Donald Trump elected through the Wikileaks disclosures, state-backed news stories, and even "quasi-governmental troll" accounts.

This report may have the unintended consequence of actually generating gratitude for our supposed enemies. Most of the report reads more as an aggrieved Clinton supporter's 99 theses for why her preferred candidate lost (none of them are Hillary) than a measured security analysis. Obviously, people who do not like Clinton are unlikely to take issue with her factual dirty laundry being aired. And plenty of people across the political spectrum join Putin's trolls in "characterizing the United States as a 'surveillance state'" that perpetrates "widespread infringements of civil liberties, police brutality, and drone use."

Of course, the intelligence community can always fall back on its excuse that the report "does not and cannot include the full supporting information" proving many of its claims. And it also purports to merely describe Russia's motivations without making any claims about what impact this had on the electoral outcomes. But this also limits its persuasive impact.

Many Americans, perhaps still reeling from the disastrous CIA-driven Iraq War, have so far not been quick to buy this story based solely on such vague assurances. And the core of the report's complaints—that certain political actors were embarrassed when their corrupt dealings were made public—didn't exactly generate much outrage outside of the affected partisan groups.

The declassified report is only the latest in a long line of rhetorical volleys that, in the worst case, would have the effect of drumming up a new international conflict.

In late December, the FBI and the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) of the Department of Homeland Security released a Joint Analysis Report (JAR) detailing these offices' public perspectives on the recent rash of leaks. It is the first of its kind to attribute a cyber-attack to a specific actor. The document is another gem in the U.S. government's proud tradition of Joseph Heller-esque communiqués.

The 13-page report starts by informing the reader that it is "provided 'as is' for informational purposes only," and that the offices do "not provide any warranties of any kind regarding any information contained within." (This would later prove prophetic.)

It then proceeds to unveil a sexy new name for the shadowy enemy du jour: "GRIZZLY STEPPE"—an updated Axis of Evil comprised of the entire "BEAR family." While the report does not mention them by name, it offers scant more information than put forth by the CrowdStrike report on the DNC breach and the SecureWorks analysis of the John Podesta email intrusion, upon which it appears to be based. Indeed, the bulk of the report does not speak specifically about the recent hacks at all, but rather puts forth a standard list of good defensive security techniques that people should practice regardless.

Where the report did mention specifics, it goofed—big league. The associated report files contain what's called "indicators" of the breaches, which include suspected IP addresses and even a sample of the malware that the threat groups supposedly used. This intrigued many in the puzzle-hungry information security industry, who did some investigating of their own.
The feds made a rookie mistake, as the security engineers at WordPress soon discovered. The hardcore malware that the moustache-twirling GRIZZLY STEPPE super-hackers supposedly used was no Russian-backed superbug at all, but a garden variety piece of old free Ukrainian malware. Furthermore, the "suspicious" IP addresses fingered in the report did not have any obvious connections to the Russian government at all, had been previously involved in a wide range of non-political attacks all across the web, and in fact appeared to mostly originate in the U.S.

In retrospect, it's easy to see how the FBI and NCCIC could have gotten things so wrong. In early January, BuzzFeed News reported that the FBI had never even asked to examine the DNC's servers. According to yet another unnamed intelligence agent, "Crowdstrike is pretty good," implying they felt that no further investigation was needed. Yet it is fairly unusual for a federal inquiry to solely rely on the work of a commercial firm, particularly when private bodies can have their own conflicts of interest and biases. At any rate, it hardly inspires confidence in their pronouncements on the issue.

This same sloppy rush to find Russian hackers under every piece of malware was evident in The Washington Post's recent fake news faux pas. On New Year's Eve, its reporters cited anonymous U.S. officials that GRIZZLY STEPPE hackers were inside the U.S. electricity grid. Egad! Suddenly, Putin and his trolls were not just antagonizing Hillary Clinton and her friends. They were physically attacking the American people—at least the ones in Vermont—and threatening to shut off their heat in the middle of winter. Not cool, Russia.

Except that's not what happened at all. There were no Russian hackers in the Burlington Electric computer systems, and there was certainly no threat to our nation's finest maple syrup producers' winter heat. So why all the hubbub? A Burlington Electric employee used his laptop to connect to a potentially malicious IP address—probably one of the hundreds examined by the WordPress team. This laptop was not connected to the electric grid, but out of an abundance of caution Burlington flagged the event for the authorities. The game of anonymous federal official telephone somehow turned this benign event into an act of war by a foreign villain. The Washington Post sheepishly retracted the story a few days later, but not before yet another wave of paranoid saber-rattling swept the American imagination.

Of course, none of this bungling means that the Russian government (or some group connected to them) did not attempt to infiltrate the computers of U.S. organizations. On the contrary: There is almost no question that Russia did and does. Every powerful modern body (including the U.S. government) does the same. However, these continued fumbles demonstrate the extent to which the U.S. intelligence community and its accomplices have been willing to sacrifice tact and evidence in the apparent pursuit of some unknown agenda that involves escalating tensions with the Russian government.

More importantly, they reveal a dangerous tendency for the commentariat to conflate criticism of the American political establishment with anti-American foreign propaganda. Just as the scare-word "terrorism" has been contorted to fit whatever new threat inconveniences the reigning party, so too will "hacking" and "fake news" be used as a cudgel to cut back on legitimate dissent.

This new Russian scare has also underscored the dramatic recent reversal of ideological allegiances. Reliable Republican war-hawks are now joined with formerly antagonistic Democrats in their lock step support of the intelligence community. All of a sudden, liberals seems to have forgotten their previous complaints about CIA torture methods, mass surveillance, and foreign subversion. For the first time since these polls have been conducted, Democrats support the CIA more than Republicans do.

Yet for libertarians, the problems with a self-serving intelligence community run amok remain the same regardless of which party cheers it on. The enemies and contexts may change, but the result is almost always the same: A bigger government, loss of civil liberties, and yet another foreign intervention. President-elect Trump says he wants to dramatically overhaul and limit the U.S. intelligence apparatus. Let's hope he actually does it.

NEXT: American bloggers criticizing American company threatened by French lawyer citing French law

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. HEY MICHAEL HIHN THIS ARTICLE IS ABOUT THE PRESS FRENCH KISSING PUTIN AND TRUMP’S BUNGHOLES. GET ON IT, BUDDY. THEY NEED YOU OUT HERE.

    1. BULLY!!! ***smirks, pats self on back, continues talking to a wall***
      A Cato Institute study blah blah etc.

  2. You know who else freaked out about Russia…

    1. Pete Seeger?

      1. Little known trivia: Woody Guthrie’s guitar never killed a fascist.

    2. Simo Hayha [sic, thanks reason]?

    3. Bullwinkle and Rocky?

  3. “”””Russian government hackers do not appear to have targeted Vermont utility, say people close to investigation”””

    Even WaPo retraction was weak, “does not appear” is barely a retraction and the rest of the story is more about Russians under everyone ones bed then how the WaPo was pushing Fake News

  4. This is the best article on this I’ve seen.

    1. Agreed. Excellent work.

      President-elect Trump says he wants to dramatically overhaul and limit the U.S. intelligence apparatus. Let’s hope he actually does it.

      It’s way overdue.

      1. I he sees it to be in his interest, which it would be, it’ll happen.

      2. It’s amazing how many people I know, most of them relatively intelligent adults, that have a substantial fear that there will be a nuclear holocaust or that gays are going to be rounded up in the streets and forced into electro-shock therapy.

    2. Agree that this is a good article, but it downplays an important aspect of the DNI report. The DNI report is quite specific and emphatic in its assessment with “high confidence” that not only was Russia meddling in US politics, but also that this effort was ordered by Putin because “Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference” for Trump.

      According to Annex B, a high confidence assessment is based on “high-quality information from multiple sources”.

      There are only three types of high-quality information to assess that a particular individual issued a particular order or that a particular individual favored a particular candidate (as in “Putin ordered Plan A” or “Putin favored Trump”): 1) Admission by the individual; 2) SigInt from the individual; or 3) HumInt from someone close to the individual. To my knowledge, Putin has made no such admission, so #1 is out. It is also unlikely that there’s any signals intelligence since Putin is not as stupid or careless as Podesta or Clinton. So, #2 is extremely unlikely. Human intelligence is possible, but the DNI report would certainly reveal the existence of the source since few in the Kremlin would be aware of Putin’s direct involvement in the decision to meddle and his explicit preference for Trump. It seems unlikely that that the DNI would burn such a valuable source in such a cavalier manner. So, #3 is extremely unlikely.

      1. IOW, the DNI report is bullshit. It’s basically an old TV Guide story about the RT network that has been re-purposed to smear Trump.

      2. The DNI is Nork quality propaganda. It’s laughable.

      3. Even if they had human intelligence from a person close to Putin, how could they verify the information? The report said Russia wants to undermine trust in democratic institutions. A good way to do that would be for some source to say, “yeah, we did it”, even if they didn’t. Any source close to Putin has a good incentive to lie.

    3. Obviously, it was fabricated by Russian Hackers to draw attention away from Russian Hackers.

  5. This report may have the unintended consequence of actually generating gratitude for our supposed enemies.

    Or — the Russians hacked the report!

  6. I’m a skeptic – particularly when it comes to this kind of conspiracy junk. Without specifics, I don’t believe it.

    The only specifics I know is that John Podesta’s email password was password and he didn’t bother changing it even after a phishing attack. A child could have read and copied his emails.

    1. Which tells us that the dems are a joke, think the Russians are a joke, and take us for fools.

      Who is more of a threat to us; the Russians or our own government?

      1. We are fools.

  7. Did Hildog sell access to foreign governments while acting SoS?

    Of course she did.

    Did the Russians engineer her corruption?

    Of course they didn’t.

    I wonder how much of this freakout is ‘the intelligence community’ and how much is ‘entrenched Beltway fuckwits suddenly scared about losing their jobs’.

  8. TLDR: Politicians are pushing agency officials to paint the Russians (and Trump by way of association) as attacking America.

  9. LOL no doubt if the FBI does request to see the DNC server (after Trump takes office) the DNC will no doubt report that, regretfully, the server has been washed with BleachBit and smashed with a hammer. And then run through a woodchipper.

  10. Grizzly Steppe? Sounds like a scheissporn director’s name. Also, you’ve got to be fucking kidding me.

    1. Really, should have been Steppe Master.

    2. After Sunday night, I propose renaming it to Grizzled Streep.

  11. Of course, none of this bungling means that the Russian government (or some group connected to them) did not attempt to infiltrate the computers of U.S. organizations. On the contrary: There is almost no question that Russia did and does. Every powerful modern body (including the U.S. government) does the same

    I doubt the German government is infiltrating the computers of U.S. organizations in the same way as the Russians.

    1. Why? Allies spy on each other all the time to corroborate sources, or get access to intel they couldn’t otherwise acquire, or just to make sure nothing hinky’s going on.

    2. in the same way
      in the same way
      in the same way

      That’s one Hell of a qualifier.

  12. The wannabe Cold War with Russia continues apace.

    Now we know what Hillary’s RESET (??????????) button really for.

  13. Hillary’s cabinet choices were found in an e-mail. John Podesta was leading contender for Secretary of State. John Fucking Podesta. I’m hating Trump less the more I realize how awful Hillary would have been.

    Also, the EPA chief was going to be a literal Token Black Guy.

    .@mikeallen reports HRC cabinet was ready by elex.

    Highlights: State Podesta, Treasury Sheryl Sandberg, Labor Howard Schultz, CoS Ron Klain pic.twitter.com/YzLkKgnmmG

    ? apas papadopoulos (@apas) January 10, 2017

    [removed][removed]

    1. I think it’s funny that Trump got attacked by progressives for nominating a CEO to be Secretary of Labor when Hillary would have also picked a CEO.

    2. Welcome to the NFL.

  14. Serious question: Which foreign power was more meddlesome in the US election?

    1) The Russians assuming that everything in the DNI report is correct.
    2) The UK Parliament in debating that Trump should be banned from a visa because he engaged in “hate speech”. Check out the MP’s comments in this video.
    3) Multi-million dollar contributions by various foreign entities, including entities with Russian connections, to the Clinton Foundation/CGI.

  15. Here’s what Ron Dellums, an old-school progressive, used to say: We need to “totally dismantle every intelligence agency in this country piece by piece, nail by nail, brick by brick”.

    Of course, that what Lenin used to say about the czar’s secret police, the Okhrana. In April 1917, he campaigned for “Abolition of the police, the army and the bureaucracy.” Once in power, of course, he replaced the Okhrana with the CHEKA. Lenin was quite correct when he said, “A standing army and police are the chief instruments of state power.”

    The parallels should be obvious.

  16. “Donald Trump, citing Julian Assange, again mocks intelligence officials’ case for Russian hacking”
    http://www.latimes.com/nation/…..story.html

    The left is really trying to make this man look ‘way better than he is.

  17. It seems to me that the Russians are being blamed for something the NYT should have done.

    Why not give them a Pulitzer?

  18. the goal is fear mongering so that we will let them , our betters in the government, control what happens and is reported and said on the internet.

  19. Good article. rarely do you see anyone covering this topic bother to exhaustively list all the reasons why the govt’s case is flawed. they tend to stick to 1 or 2, and avoid the technical debunking.

    the whole thing is ridiculous and i think the “intelligence community” shot itself in the dick again for no other reason than as a favor to their political allies.

  20. Nevaeh. I agree that Richard`s storry is shocking… last wednesday I got a great BMW M3 from earning $5318 this-past/4 weeks and just a little over 10/k lass month. without a question it is the most comfortable job Ive ever had. I began this 10-months ago and pretty much straight away got me at least $83, p/h. see here now

    +_+_+_+_+_+_+_+_+ http://www.homejobs7.com

  21. From Lubos Motl’s assessment of the latest report: “The stupidity needed for someone to write something like that is so flabbergasting that I would almost be willing to believe that this whole report was a plot by the Kremlin designed to humiliate the U.S. intelligence community. It’s just so utterly pathetic….This ludicrous whining undergraduate crybaby’s report about the “Russian hacking” also shows how incredibly inefficient and wasteful government institutions may be, especially when they’re controlled by a left-winger, especially if he is detached from the reality and prefers to focus on the appearances rather than the beef.”

    http://motls.blogspot.cl/2017/…..cking.html

  22. In addition to coming around (after 100 years) to hating Russia, liberals now trust the CIA and the surveillance state implicitly, love religion (Islam), embrace war and interference in foreign governments (Morocco, Lybia, Egypt, Ukraine, Syria, Yemen), show undying love for legislative intent and constitutional law (urging Electors to vote their way). In upcoming weeks we’ll see, as they fight right-to-carry reciprocity, a newfound love for federalism and the 10th Amendment.

    Abby Hoffmann is spinning in his grave.

  23. If you check the IP addresses released by the govt, I think you’ll find, that many of them are Tor exit nodes.

  24. The next ‘boogey man’ in line…we must always be fearful…and then the govt must provide a solution to our fears…

    1. start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this ? 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go to tech tab for work detail?

      ??? http://www.JobMax6.com

  25. Ella . although Margaret `s article is super, on friday I got a new McLaren F1 after having earned $4887 this-past/four weeks and just over ten grand last-month . this is actually my favourite-work Ive had . I actually started six months/ago and right away began to earn minimum $82 p/h
    . Read more on this site…..

    ================= http://www.homejobs7.com

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.