How An Internet ‘Persona’ Helped Birth Russiagate
Above photo: Hillary Clinton at the 2016 convention. From Wikimedia Commons.
Four years ago today, on June 15, 2016, a shadowy Internet persona calling itself “Guccifer 2.0” appeared out of nowhere to claim credit for hacking emails from the Democratic National Committee on behalf of WikiLeaks and implicate Russia by dropping “telltale” but synthetically produced Russian “breadcrumbs” in his metadata.
Thanks largely to the corporate media, the highly damaging story actually found in those DNC emails — namely, that the DNC had stacked the cards against Bernie Sanders in the party’s 2016 primary— was successfully obscured.
The media was the message; and the message was that Russia had used G-2.0 to hack into the DNC, interfering in the November 2016 election to help Donald Trump win.
Almost everybody still “knows” that — from the man or woman in the street to the forlorn super sleuth, Special Counsel Robert Swan Mueller III, who actually based indictments of Russian intelligence officers on Guccifer 2.0.
Blaming Russia was a magnificent distraction from the start and quickly became the vogue.
The soil had already been cultivated for “Russiagate” by Democratic PR gems like Donald Trump “kissing up” to former KGB officer Vladimir Putin and their “bromance” (bromides that former President Barack Obama is still using). Four years ago today, “Russian meddling” was off and running — on steroids — acquiring far more faux-reality than the evanescent Guccifer 2.0 persona is likely to get.
Here’s how it went down:
1 — June 12: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange announced he had “emails related to Hillary Clinton which are pending publication.”
2 — June 14: DNC contractor CrowdStrike tells the media that malware has been found on the DNC server and claims there is evidence it was injected by Russians.
3 — June 15: Guccifer 2.0 arises from nowhere; affirms the DNC/CrowdStrike allegations of the day before; claims responsibility for hacking the DNC; claims to be a WikiLeaks source; and posts a document that forensic examination shows was deliberately tainted with “Russian fingerprints.” This to “corroborate” claims made by CrowdStrike executives the day before.
Adding to other signs of fakery, there is hard evidence that G-2.0 was operating mostly in U.S. time zones and with local settings peculiar to a device configured for use within the U.S., as Tim Leonard reports here and here.)
Leonard is a software developer who started to catalog and archive evidence related to Guccifer 2.0 in 2017 and has issued detailed reports on digital forensic discoveries made by various independent researchers — as well as his own — over the past three years. Leonard points out that WikiLeaks said it did not use any of the emails G2.0 sent it, though it later published similar emails, opening the possibility that whoever created G2.0 knew what WikiLeaks had and sent it duplicates with the Russian fingerprints.
As Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) told President Trump in a memorandum of July 24, 2017, titled “Was the ‘Russian Hack’ an Inside Job?”:
“We do not think that the June 12, 14, & 15 timing was pure coincidence. Rather, it suggests the start of a pre-emptive move to associate Russia with anything WikiLeaks might have been ready to publish and to ‘show’ that it came from a Russian hack.”
We added this about Guccifer 2.0 at the time:
“The recent forensic studies fill in a critical gap. Why the FBI neglected to perform any independent forensics on the original ‘Guccifer 2.0’ material remains a mystery – as does the lack of any sign that the ‘hand-picked analysts’ from the FBI, CIA, and NSA, who wrote the misnomered ‘Intelligence Community’ Assessment dated January 6, 2017, gave any attention to forensics.”
Guccifer 2.0 Seen As a Fraud
In our July 24, 2017 memorandum we also told President Trump that independent cyber investigators and VIPS had determined “that the purported ‘hack’ of the DNC by Guccifer 2.0 was not a hack, by Russia or anyone else. Rather it originated with a copy (onto an external storage device – a thumb drive, for example) by an insider. Information was leaked to implicate Russia. We do not know who or what the murky Guccifer 2.0 is. You may wish to ask the FBI.” [Emphasis added.].
Right. Ask the FBI. At this stage, President Trump might have better luck asking Attorney General William Barr, to whom the FBI is accountable — at least in theory. As for Barr, VIPS informed him in a June 5, 2020 memorandum that the head of CrowdStrike had admitted under oath on Dec. 5, 2017 that CrowdStrike has no concrete evidence that the DNC emails published by WikiLeaks on July 22, 2016 were hacked — by Russia or by anyone else. [Emphasis added.] This important revelation has so far escaped attention in the Russia-Russia-Russia “mainstream” media (surprise, surprise, surprise!).
Back to the Birth of G-2
It boggles the mind that so few Americans could see Russiagate for the farce it was. Most of the blame, I suppose, rests on a thoroughly complicit Establishment media. Recall: Assange’s announcement on June 12, 2016 that he had Hillary Clinton-related emails came just six weeks before the Democratic convention. I could almost hear the cry go up from the DNC: Houston, We Have a Problem!
Here’s how bad the problem for the Democrats was. The DNC emails eventually published by WikiLeaks on July 22, 2016, just three days before the Democratic convention, had been stolen on May 23 and 25. This would have given the DNC time to learn that the stolen material included documents showing how the DNC and Clinton campaign had manipulated the primaries and created a host of other indignities, such that Sanders’ chances of winning the nomination amounted to those of a snowball’s chance in the netherworld.
To say this was an embarrassment would be the understatement of 2016. Worse still, given the documentary nature of the emails and WikiLeaks’ enviable track record for accuracy, there would be no way to challenge their authenticity. Nevertheless, with the media in full support of the DNC and Clinton, however, it turned out to be a piece of cake to divert attention from the content of the emails to the “act of war” (per John McCain) that the Russian “cyber attack” was said to represent.
The outcome speaks as much to the lack of sophistication on the part of American TV watchers, as it does to the sophistication of the Democrats-media complicity and cover-up. How come so few could figure out what was going down?
It was not hard for some experienced observers to sniff a rat. Among the first to speak out was fellow Consortium News columnist Patrick Lawrence, who immediately saw through the Magnificent Diversion. I do not know if he fancies duck hunting, but he shot the Russiagate canard quite dead — well before the Democratic convention was over.
In late July 2016, Lawrence was sickened, as he watched what he immediately recognized as a well planned, highly significant deflection. The Clinton-friendly media was excoriating Russia for “hacking” DNC emails and was glossing over what the emails showed; namely, that the Clinton Dems had pretty much stolen the nomination from Sanders.
It was already clear even then that the Democrats, with invaluable help from intelligence leaks and other prepping to the media, had made good use of those six weeks between Assange’s announcement that he had emails “related to Hillary Clinton” and the opening of the convention.
The media was primed to castigate the Russians for “hacking,” while taking a prime role in the deflection. It was a liminal event of historic significance, as we now know. The “Magnificent Diversion” worked like a charm — and then it grew like Topsy.
Lawrence said he had “fire in the belly” on the morning of July 25 as the Democratic convention began and wrote what follows pretty much “in one long, furious exhale” within 12 hours of when the media started really pushing the “the Russians-did-it” narrative.
Below is a slightly shortened text of his article:
“Now wait a minute, all you upper-case “D” Democrats. A flood light suddenly shines on your party apparatus, revealing its grossly corrupt machinations to fix the primary process and sink the Sanders campaign, and within a day you are on about the evil Russians having hacked into your computers to sabotage our elections …
Is this a joke? Are you kidding? Is nothing beneath your dignity? Is this how lowly you rate the intelligence of American voters? …
Clowns. Subversives. Do you know who you remind me of? I will tell you: Nixon, in his famously red-baiting campaign — a disgusting episode — … during his first run for the Senate, in 1950. Your political tricks are as transparent and anti-democratic as his, it is perfectly fair to say.
I confess to a heated reaction to events since last Friday [July 22] among the Democrats, specifically in the Democratic National Committee. I should briefly explain …
The Sanders people have long charged that the DNC has had its fingers on the scale, as one of them put it the other day, in favor of Hillary Clinton’s nomination. The prints were everywhere — many those of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who has repeatedly been accused of anti-Sanders bias. Schultz, do not forget, co-chaired Clinton’s 2008 campaign against Barack Obama. That would be enough to disqualify her as the DNC’s chair in any society that takes ethics seriously, but it is not enough in our great country. Chairwoman she has been for the past five years.
Last Friday WikiLeaks published nearly 20,000 DNC email messages providing abundant proof that Sanders and his staff were right all along. The worst of these, involving senior DNC officers, proposed Nixon-esque smears having to do with everything from ineptitude within the Sanders campaign to Sanders as a Jew in name only and an atheist by conviction.
Wasserman fell from grace on Monday. Other than this, Democrats from President Obama to Clinton and numerous others atop the party’s power structure have had nothing to say, as in nothing, about this unforgivable breach.They have, rather, been full of praise for Wasserman Schultz. Brad Marshall, the D.N.C.’s chief financial officer, now tries to deny that his Jew-baiting remark referred to Sanders. Good luck, Brad: Bernie is the only Jew in the room.
The caker came on Sunday, when Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager, appeared on ABC’s “This Week” and … CNN’s “State of the Union” to assert that the D.N.C.’s mail was hacked “by the Russians for the purpose of helping Donald Trump.” He knows this — knows it in a matter of 24 hours — because “experts” — experts he will never name — have told him so. …
What’s disturbing to us is that experts are telling us that Russian state actors broke into the DNC, stole these emails, and other experts are now saying that Russians are releasing these emails for the purpose of helping Donald Trump.
Is that what disturbs you, Robby? Interesting. Unsubstantiated hocus-pocus, not the implications of these events for the integrity of Democratic nominations and the American political process? The latter is the more pressing topic, Robby. You are far too long on anonymous experts for my taste, Robby. And what kind of expert, now that I think of it, is able to report to you as to the intentions of Russian hackers — assuming for a sec that this concocted narrative has substance?
Making lemonade out of a lemon, the Clinton campaign now goes for a twofer. Watch as it advances the Russians-did-it thesis on the basis of nothing, then shoots the messenger, then associates Trump with its own mess — and, finally, gets to ignore the nature of its transgression (which any paying-attention person must consider grave).
Preposterous, readers. Join me, please, in having absolutely none of it. There is no “Russian actor” at the bottom of this swamp, to put my position bluntly. You will never, ever be offered persuasive evidence otherwise.
Reluctantly, I credit the Clinton campaign and the DNC with reading American paranoia well enough such that they may make this junk stick. In a clear sign the entire crowd-control machine is up and running, The New York Times had a long, unprofessional piece about Russian culprits in its Monday editions. It followed Mook’s lead faithfully: not one properly supported fact, not one identified “expert,” and more conditional verbs than you’ve had hot dinners — everything cast as “could,” “might,” “appears,” “would,” “seems,” “may.” Nothing, once again, as to the very serious implications of this affair for the American political process.
Now comes the law. The FBI just announced that it will investigate — no, not the DNC’s fraudulent practices (which surely breach statutes), but “those who pose a threat in cyberspace.” … it is the invocation of the Russians that sends me over the edge. My bones grow weary …
We must take the last few days’ events as a signal of what Clinton’s policy toward Russia will look like should she prevail in November. … Turning her party’s latest disgrace into an occasion for another round of Russophobia is mere preface, but in it you can read her commitment to the new crusade.
Trump, to make this work, must be blamed for his willingness to negotiate with Moscow. This is now among his sins. Got that? Anyone who says he will talk to the Russians has transgressed the American code. … Does this not make Hillary Clinton more than a touch Nixonian?
I am developing nitrogen bends from watching the American political spectacle. One can hardly tell up from down. Which way for a breath of air?”
A year later Lawrence interviewed several of us VIPS, including our two former NSA technical directors and on Aug. 9, 2017 published an article for The Nation titled, “A New Report Raises Big Questions About Last Year’s DNC Hack.”
Lawrence wrote, “Former NSA experts, now members of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), say it wasn’t a hack at all, but a leak—an inside job by someone with access to the DNC’s system.”
And so it was. But, sadly, that cut across the grain of the acceptable Russia-gate narrative at The Nation at the time. Its staff, seriously struck by the HWHW (Hillary Would Have Won) virus, rose up in rebellion. A short time later, there was no more room at The Nation for his independent-minded writing.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. His 27-year career as a CIA analyst included preparing and briefing The President’s Daily Brief and leading the Soviet Foreign Policy Branch. In retirement he co-founded Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.