The Weekend Wonk: Investigate Russia

February 9, 2018

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Former CIA Director John Brennan sit down with Director/Actor/Activist Rob Reiner for a candid conversation about what Russia did during the 2016 election and why they are concerned by what they are seeing now.

As Chris Mathews notes below –  not separate from the climate crisis and Carbon Bubble.

Energy Information Agency:

Russia is a major exporter of crude oil, petroleum products, and natural gas. Sales of these fuels accounted for 68% of Russia’s total export revenues in 2013, based on data from Russia’s Federal Customs Service. Russia received almost four times as much revenue from exports of crude oil and petroleum products as from natural gas. Crude oil exports alone were greater in value than the value of all non-oil and natural gas exports.

Russia is one of the leading countries that actively produce oil and supply it to other countries: Over last ten years Russian economy depends on oil and gas revenues as the oil prices grow. This has double meaning. On the one hand, the Russian economy demonstrated growth; the budget revenues, therefore, grew due to oil and gas industry, which may be beneficial for the state. But then the oil dependency resulted in other industries underdeveloped or even did not develop at all, which would be negative in terms of diversification of the national economy and mitigation of risks. Therefore, as the oil prices reduced late 2014, it negatively affected the Russian economy and may adversely affect the prospects of economic growth under uncertainty of oil prices.

At its core, Climategate was a story about emails—some admittedly embarrassing or poorly phrased—that were dumped online with the intent of altering a crucial global event. WikiLeaks republished the scientists’ emails. Talk radio and Fox News had a field day. Politicians soon followed. Mainstream reporters amplified out-of-context quotes. And the victims of the hack—especially Mann and the University of East Anglia’s Phil Jones—were not prepared for the deluge of investigations, personal attacks, and even death threats that followed.

At the time, some observers openly wondered whether Russia might have orchestrated the Climategate hack. Investigators and other experts haven’t found much to support that hypothesis—the true culprit remains a mystery. Mann himself has pointed to the incident’s “curious connections” to Russia and WikiLeaks, but he, too, notes there’s no specific evidence that Moscow was to blame. Still, Mann sees other ways in which the episode was similar to what Hillary Clinton experienced in 2016. Both hacks, he notes, were “intended to impact the global political scene in a significant manner.”

Podesta, a leading advocate of climate action during the Obama years, describes Climategate as an early example of hackers conspiring “to take the fruits of illegal behavior, weaponize them, then use them in a political context.” And though the emails contained no evidence of scientific misconduct, Podesta notes, climate change deniers successfully used them to “change public perception and increase skepticism about the need for action at a pivotal moment.”

Climategate began in the fall of 2009, when someone accessed thousands of emails and other documents stored on a backup server at the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit—a prestigious institution in Norwich, England, that is one of the leading centers of global warming research. It wasn’t just CRU employees who were caught up in the hack; their communications with dozens of scientists around the world, including Mann, were stolen as well.

On November 17 of that year, links to a zip file containing the stolen material—labeled “FOIA.zip”—began appearing in the comments sections of blogs run by climate change skeptics. The file name had a clear meaning: Skeptics had been engaged in a long-running battle with the university to gain access to scientists’ raw data and communications using the United Kingdom’s Freedom of Information Act. The file itself was stored on a server in Russia, though that server space could have been used by anyone in the world.

The hacker also broke into RealClimate—a website run by a group of climate scientists—and drafted a post promoting the emails. NASA scientist Gavin Schmidt found the hacker’s post before it was published; it still sits in RealClimate‘s content management system today.

Within days, WikiLeaks published the emails. Its founder, Julian Assange, told PBSthat the university had been trying “to suppress information from the Freedom of Information Act.” (At the time, Assange was considered an advocate of radical transparency. After WikiLeaks’ role in publishing Democratic documents hacked by the Russians and corresponding with the Trump campaign, his motives seem far more suspect.)

The emails in no way altered the well-established fact that humans are changing the climate. Still, skeptics zeroed in on a 1999 message sent by CRU’s Jones, in which he mentioned Mann’s research and also used the phrase “hide the decline.” Given that Mann was best known for the “hockey stick” chart showing the dramatic increase in global temperatures, the wording sounded nefarious. But it turned out that Jones wasn’t describing an attempt to conceal a decline in temperatures. (The world was warming rapidly, after all.) Instead, he was referring to a scientific method for dealing with complications in tree-ring data.

Michael Mann’s groundbreaking “hockey stick” chart—named after the steep rise in global temperatures it depicts—has been validated by numerous independent studies since its publication two decades ago.

A series of independent inquiries would later conclude that while the University of East Anglia had improperly dodged open records requests, none of the scientists had engaged in any type of academic misconduct or fabrication. But that wasn’t the story taking shape on the news networks and in major papers.

On November 20, a New York Times front-page story opened by noting that skeptics “say [the emails] show that climate scientists conspired to overstate the case for a human influence on climate change.” The Washington Post quoted climate skeptic Myron Ebell—who would later run Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency transition team—as saying the emails exposed an “alarmist political agenda.” The Post even ran an op-ed by Sarah Palin, who claimed that scientists had “manipulated data to ‘hide the decline’ in global temperatures.”

Television coverage was even worse. NBC told viewers that “those who doubt that man-made greenhouse gases are changing the climate say these emails…show climate scientists massaging data.” ABC inaccurately claimed that “one of the most damning email exchanges credits Mann with a trick to hide the decline in temperatures.”

Mann quickly became a central target for climate change deniers. Right-wing groups and Republican politicians called for the federal government to revoke his research funding and for his university to investigate him. He received an envelope in the mail containing white powder; it turned out to be cornstarch. “You and your colleagues who have promoted this scandal ought to be shot, quartered, and fed to the pigs along with your whole damn families,” declared one emailer. Along with other climate experts, Mann was featured in an anti-Semitic post on the white supremacist website Stormfront—an ominous foreshadowing of 2016.

Sound familiar? Russian intelligence agents followed a strikingly similar blueprint in 2016 after they hacked the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Podesta’s personal Gmail account.

“If you were a Russian operative [and] pitching influence ops for the DNC, and somebody’s like, ‘Eh, I don’t know about that,’ literally you just turn around and go, ‘Look at how well it worked [with Climategate],’” says Jake Williams, a cybersecurity expert and former analyst at the National Security Agency. “I wouldn’t necessarily say one influenced the other, but certainly it’s good proof that that’s a technique that works.”

To access Podesta’s emails, the hackers used a targeted phishing attack that led his office to inadvertently turn over his login credentials. The DNC was hacked by two groups associated with Russian intelligence—one starting in 2015 and another in 2016—also via targeted phishing attacks. Tens of thousands of emails were eventually made public, along with Democratic fundraising reports and other planning materials. Batches of the stolen documents were given to individual news outlets, while other chunks were published directly to the blog of Guccifer 2.0—an online persona thought to be a front for Russian intelligence.

By far the most damage was done via WikiLeaks, which published the DNC emails days before the Democratic National Convention. And when the Trump campaign was thrown into chaos after the Washington Post unearthed a 2005 video of Trump boasting about grabbing women “by the pussy,” WikiLeaks began publishing the Podesta emails less than an hour later. WikiLeaks then rolled out new batches of emails on a near-daily basis in the month leading up to the election. Once again, the timing was clearly designed for maximum impact.

Below, my call-in to the Diane Rehm show on November 10, 2016.

Political jargon was misinterpreted, and innocuous phrases were presented out of context. Years-old private emails were dumped into the public sphere. Benign interactions between reporters and their sources were twisted to imply collusionbetween the Clinton campaign and the mainstream media. In one particularly absurd example highlighted by the liberal group Media Matters for America, Rush Limbaugh and other conservatives breathlessly reported that Podesta had “admitted” that Clinton hated “everyday Americans.” Podesta had actually meant that Clinton hated the phrase “everyday Americans”—a slogan that her campaign frequently used at the time.

The 2016 hacks had devastating personal consequences for their targets. Mann had been compared to a child molester; Podesta was actually accused of child molestation by conspiracy theorists who declared they had detected code words in his emails designed to conceal a child sex ring supposedly operating out of a DC pizzeria. Every piece of the so-called Pizzagate scandal was a lie, but that didn’t stop restaurant staffers from receiving hundreds of death threats. In December 2016, a North Carolina man who claimed to be investigating Pizzagate fired an assault rifle inside the restaurant. Luckily, no one was injured.

We still know very little about “Mr. FOIA”—the online persona who claimed to be behind Climategate. His own words suggest he was a lone individual with no government or corporate backing. (Guccifer 2.0 also claimed to have no connection to Russian intelligence, an assertion that US intelligence agencies say is false.)

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4 Responses to “The Weekend Wonk: Investigate Russia”

  1. Glen Koehler Says:

    I know you’re busy, but if you love your country go to minute 14 of the “Invstigate Russia – Get the Truth” video and watch the last 8 minutes. You can set YouTube to play at 1.5 speed and it will take less than 6 minutes. You will hear two of the most informed experts speak out about the unprecedented attack on our constitutional form of government by the Trump administration. This is not a drill folks. This is for real. The consequences extend to everything from unabated (actually accelerated) climate change, nuclear war, civil liberties, you name it, there is no moral boundaries evil will not cross if not stopped.
    Have a nice day…

  2. PeterVermont Says:

    Very nicely done and makes the connection clear.

  3. neilrieck Says:

    For anyone who thinks that Russian meddling had any real affect on the US presidential elections in 2016, you should watch this recent interview with author Niall Ferguson on TVO (TVO is Ontario Canada’s answer to PBS).

    The Age of Networking
    Feb 07, 2018 – 29:51
    The Agenda welcomes historian and author Niall Ferguson to discuss his latest book.

    https://tvo.org/video/programs/the-agenda-with-steve-paikin/the-age-of-networking

    According to the author, “American Republicans” new how to properly use social media sites like Facebook, while “American Democrats” had no clue at all. Apparently this fact became known as the morning-after shock in Silicon Valley where the creators of these platforms woke up to the realization that Clinton was not the president, and that they were responsible for this. But for the details I think you need to read Niall’s book:

    The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook


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