Friday, August 18, 2017

The Deep State's Russian Hacking Narrative Collapsing

After Charlottesville and the reintroduction of the throbbing heart of American politics, white supremacy, the deep-state spun yarn of Russian subversion of Western democracy looks exactly like what it was all along -- a dubious spy-vs.-spy potboiler complete with bears both fancy and cozy cooked up in Langley and spoon fed to a servile media.

Yesterday, as if to say, "Please, don't forget about the New Cold War when you are tearing down all those monuments to the Lost Cause," The New York Times published the frontpager, "In Ukraine, a Malware Expert Who Could Blow the Whistle on Russian Hacking," by its two journeymen Russophobes, Andrew Kramer and Andrew Higgins.

The story is laughable. A malware architect in Ukrainian custody is cooperating with FBI. We are asked to believe that portions of code the Ukrainian, known as Profexer, authored ended up on DNC servers. We are also asked to believe that somehow it was Russian agents who put the code there.
There is no evidence that Profexer worked, at least knowingly, for Russia’s intelligence services, but his malware apparently did.
That a hacking operation that Washington is convinced was orchestrated by Moscow would obtain malware from a source in Ukraine — perhaps the Kremlin’s most bitter enemy — sheds considerable light on the Russian security services’ modus operandi in what Western intelligence agencies say is their clandestine cyberwar against the United States and Europe.
It does not suggest a compact team of government employees who write all their own code and carry out attacks during office hours in Moscow or St. Petersburg, but rather a far looser enterprise that draws on talent and hacking tools wherever they can be found.
Also emerging from Ukraine is a sharper picture of what the United States believes is a Russian government hacking group known as Advanced Persistent Threat 28 or Fancy Bear. It is this group, which American intelligence agencies believe is operated by Russian military intelligence, that has been blamed, along with a second Russian outfit known as Cozy Bear, for the D.N.C. intrusion.
Rather than training, arming and deploying hackers to carry out a specific mission like just another military unit, Fancy Bear and its twin Cozy Bear have operated more as centers for organization and financing; much of the hard work like coding is outsourced to private and often crime-tainted vendors.
[snip]
“There is not now and never has been a single piece of technical evidence produced that connects the malware used in the D.N.C. attack to the G.R.U., F.S.B. or any agency of the Russian government,” said Jeffrey Carr, the author of a book on cyberwarfare. The G.R.U. is Russia’s military intelligence agency, and the F.S.B. its federal security service.
United States intelligence agencies, however, have been unequivocal in pointing a finger at Russia.
The whole thing screams false flag. One interesting takeaway though is that the press, at least The New York Times, is starting to hedge with several statements ascribing the Russian hack theory solely to U.S. intelligence agencies. This is a recent change. For many months there was merely the bald assertion that "the Russians did it." Clearly when the "Russia hack" narrative collapses, as it already is, the media doesn't want to be forced to issue a series of retractions a la the Iraq War.

Assange says he has proof that DNC documents WikiLeaks published last year did not come from Russia. Combined with the studiously ignored story that the DNC documents were leaked not hacked, the casus belli of the deep state's New Cold War is disintegrating.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Black Bloc Brings Down the Confederate Monuments

In this morning's story, "Trump Comments on Race Open Breach With C.E.O.s, Military and G.O.P.," by Michael Shear, Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman, there is evidence that Trump has reached his "At long last, have you left no sense of decency?" moment:
The president’s top advisers described themselves as stunned, despondent and numb. Several said they were unable to see how Mr. Trump’s presidency would recover, and others expressed doubts about his capacity to do the job.
In contrast, the president told close aides that he felt liberated by his news conference. Aides said he seemed to bask afterward in his remarks, and viewed them as the latest retort to the political establishment that he sees as trying to tame his impulses.
Mr. Trump’s venting on Tuesday came despite pleas from his staff, including his daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner. Instead of taking their advice to stop talking about the protest, the president eagerly unburdened himself of what he viewed as political correctness in favor of a take-no-prisoners attack on the “alt-left.”
On Wednesday, even Fox News, a favorite of the president’s, repeatedly carried criticism of Mr. Trump. One Fox host, Shepard Smith, said that he had been unable to find a single Republican to come on-air to defend Mr. Trump’s remarks.
Whether Trump continues to hemorrhage depends on the next couple of days. The dissolution of two industry advisory panels by the White House yesterday, followed by news that Trump is fleeing to the bunker of Camp David, show an administration that is ducking and covering.

We can only hope the spotlight tarries on white supremacy for as long as possible. Charles Blow's column this morning, "The Other Inconvenient Truth," on the op-ed page of The New York Times is that that could appear in CounterPunch:
In 1994 John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s domestic-policy adviser and a Watergate co-conspirator, confessed this to the author Dan Baum:
“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or blacks, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
The era Ehrlichman referred to was the beginning of the War on Drugs. Nixon started his offensive in 1971, declaring in a speech from the White House Briefing Room: “America’s public enemy No. 1 in the United States is drug abuse. In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive.”
The object of disrupting communities worked all too well — more than 40 million arrests have been conducted for drug-related offenses since 1971, with African-Americans being incarcerated in state prisons for these offenses at a rate that is 10 times greater than that for whites, according to Human Rights Watch.
In 1970, Nixon’s political strategist Kevin Phillips told The New York Times, “The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans.”
The Republican Party wanted the racists. It was strategy, the “Southern Strategy,” and it too has proved wildly successful. From there this cancer took hold.
The party itself has dispensed with public confessions of this inclination — at least until Trump — but the white supremacy still survives and even thrives in policy. The stated goals of the Republican Party are not completely dissimilar from many of the white nationalist positions.
This is all true and an excellent thumbnail sketch of the constant rightward drift of national politics since Kevin Phillips penned The Emerging Republican Majority in 1969. But what Blow leaves out is how this superannuated strategy could still deliver the White House 50 years on. The answer is that the Democratic Party is guided by neoliberalism and militarism. The working class has nothing to support.

Enter Antifa. One could see this coming. With normal channels of political action ossified, anarchism has come back in a big way. It is the willingness of the Black Bloc to engage white supremacists that has prompted the rush to bring down the Confederate monuments. Public officials don't want to preside over the next Charlottesville.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Trump's Big Blunder

Trump made a significant blunder yesterday during his Trump Tower press conference. If you look at the video of the event, Trump is running scared. He declared an equivalence of violence between the white supremacists and the people who came out to protest their presence at Charlottesville.

The blunder is significant because it forces the "fake media" to become less fake. A pillar of the prestige press is to categorically deny any legitimacy, potency, urgency, effectiveness to popular leftist movements, all while inflating rightist power and popularity. To go along with this is the twin pillar of inflating any leftist property damage or scuffles with police during protests (see the Seattle WTO, Occupy Wall Street, etc.) as threats to the foundation of the state.

With Trump's assertion of equivalence between left and right at Charlottesville, the press has begun to debunk one of the great shibboleths of mainstream political discourse. For example, there is Linda Qiu's "Trump Asks, ‘What About the Alt-Left?’ Here’s an Answer":
[T]here is one stark difference between the violence on the two sides: The police said that James Alex Fields Jr. of Ohio drove his car into a crowd and killed at least one person, Heather Heyer. Mr. Fields was charged with second-degree murder.
Comparing Antifa to Mr. Fields’s act is like “comparing a propeller plane to a C-130 transport,” said Brian Levin, the director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.
“Using the fact that some counterprotesters were, in fact, violent, creates a structural and moral false equivalency that is seriously undermining the legitimacy of this president,” Professor Levin said.
Antifa and black block — the far left of today — engaging in street brawls and property damage, while reprehensible, is “not domestic terrorism,” said J. J. MacNab, a fellow in the Program on Extremism at George Washington University. Similar episodes of extreme violence certainly exist on the left: the recent congressional baseball shooting in Virginia, or the bombing of the North Carolina Republican Party headquarters. 
But overall, far-right extremist plots have been far more deadly than far-left plots (and Islamist plots eclipsed both) in the past 25 years, according to a breakdown of two terrorism databases by Alex Nowrasteh, an analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute.
White nationalists; militia movements; anti-Muslim attackers; I.R.S. building and abortion clinic bombers; and other right-wing groups were responsible for 12 times as many fatalities and 36 times as many injuries as communists; socialists; animal rights and environmental activists; anti-white- and Black Lives Matter-inspired attackers; and other left-wing groups.
Of the nearly 1,500 individuals in a University of Maryland study of radicalization from 1948 to 2013, 43 percent espoused far-right ideologies, compared to 21 percent for the far left. Far-right individuals were more likely to commit violence against people, while those on the far left were more likely to commit property damage.
True, it is just one story. But I can't recall having seen anything like it in the pages of The New York Times. It is a good sign, and a bad one for Trump.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Trump's Hurricane Katrina

How many times can white resentment be resuscitated as a political force? Still potent in terms of controlling Congress, I thought it was dead as a factor determining a national election. I was wrong. The rural crackers came out in droves, to paraphrase Bibi Netanyahu speaking of Arab voters in the 2015 Israeli legislative elections, and cast ballots for Trump.

But this isn't a renascent power returning to occupy the center. This recrudescence of white nationalism is just as much about the failure of the Democrats to inspire mass voter participation. We are left with two major parties that have no broad popular appeal. Trump's political genius -- or is it Bannon's? -- was to recognize that in such a political environment any ideology that can galvanize a segment of the electorate is enough to beat the Democratic Party when it is led by Wall Street.

The downside to this strategy is that it is only a matter of time before sunshine appears and people react with revulsion. Charlottesville appears to be that moment. It's Trump's Hurricane Katrina. Voters don't want Gerald L.K. Smith as president.

Statues of Confederate heroes are coming down. Bannon is being made to walk the plank. This from today's Situation Report:
Bannon in Limbo. NYT: “Rupert Murdoch has repeatedly urged President Trump to fire him. Anthony Scaramucci, the president's former communications director, thrashed him on television as a white nationalist. Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the national security adviser, refused to even say he could work with him.
"For months, Mr. Trump has considered ousting Stephen K. Bannon, the White House chief strategist and relentless nationalist who ran the Breitbart website and called it a 'platform for the alt-right.' Mr. Trump has sent Mr. Bannon to a kind of internal exile, and has not met face-to-face for more than a week with a man who was once a fixture in the Oval Office, according to aides and friends of the president.”
If Bannon goes Trump is left without his mix master; he'll be the star of The Apprentice sitting in the Oval Office with very little hope, other than that provided by the incompetence of the Democrats, that he can remain there after 2020.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Maidan Blowback: North Korea's ICBMs

UPDATE: In a post today, "Hyping North Korea To Relaunch Reagan's Star Wars?," Moon of Alabama denies the veracity of the entire NYT story:
One missile defense marketing pundit claimed today that the North Korean missile engines used in the recent tests were bought from factories in Ukraine or Russia. The usual propagandist at the New York Times picked up on that to further their anti-Russian theme:
"Mr. Elleman was unable to rule out the possibility that a large Russian missile enterprise, Energomash, which has strong ties to the Ukrainian complex, had a role in the transfer of the RD-250 engine technology to North Korea. He said leftover RD-250 engines might also be stored in Russian warehouses."
But the engines in question are of different size and thrust than the alleged R-250 engines and the claimed time-frame does not fit at all. The Ukrainian government denied any transfer of missiles or designs. The story was debunked with in hours by two prominent experts. But implicating Russia, however farfetched, is always good if one wants to sell more weapons.
****

The New York Times is one of the chief purveyors of Russophobia. Usually the newspaper's anti-Russia propaganda, at first glance at least, appears plausible. But that's not the case with this morning's offering by William Broad and David Sanger, "North Korea’s Missile Success Is Linked to Ukrainian Plant, Investigators Say."

The story, based on a new study by an International Institute for Strategic Studies missile expert, is that North Korea's recent ICBM success is due to the acquisition of Russian-designed engines, RD-250s, from a plant, Yuzhmash, in Dnipro, Ukraine. As Broad and Sanger explain:
Analysts who studied photographs of the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, inspecting the new rocket motors concluded that they derive from designs that once powered the Soviet Union’s missile fleet. The engines were so powerful that a single missile could hurl 10 thermonuclear warheads between continents.
Those engines were linked to only a few former Soviet sites. Government investigators and experts have focused their inquiries on a missile factory in Dnipro, Ukraine, on the edge of the territory where Russia is fighting a low-level war to break off part of Ukraine. During the Cold War, the factory made the deadliest missiles in the Soviet arsenal, including the giant SS-18. It remained one of Russia’s primary producers of missiles even after Ukraine gained independence.
But since Ukraine’s pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, was removed from power in 2014, the state-owned factory, known as Yuzhmash, has fallen on hard times. The Russians canceled upgrades of their nuclear fleet. The factory is underused, awash in unpaid bills and low morale. Experts believe it is the most likely source of the engines that in July powered the two ICBM tests, which were the first to suggest that North Korea has the range, if not necessarily the accuracy or warhead technology, to threaten American cities.
“It’s likely that these engines came from Ukraine — probably illicitly,” Mr. Elleman said in an interview. “The big question is how many they have and whether the Ukrainians are helping them now. I’m very worried.”
Throughout the story, Broad and Sanger repeatedly try to link the engine transfer, at least rhetorically, to Russia. There is no stronger tell than the highlighted passage above where Dnipro is painted a city on the front lines of the civil war. It is unclear from the sentence which side of the Novorossiya border Dnipro is located.

This is nothing more than crass propaganda. Dnipro has always remained loyal to the coup government in Kiev. It removed its Lenin statues and even changed the name of the city, Dnipropetrovsk, to comply with the 2015 decommunization law. (The city had been named after the Communist leader of Ukraine Grigory Petrovsky.)

If anything this story is your standard tale of CIA blowback. The United States instigated a coup in 2014 and, subsequently, one of its designated rogue nations has a powerful ICBM arsenal to go with its small stockpile of nuclear bombs.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Once Again: A Leak, Not a Hack

Yesterday The Nation published a lengthy article by Patrick Lawrence, "A New Report Raises Big Questions About Last Year’s DNC Hack," which categorically refutes the foundation of Russiagate, that computer servers for the Democratic National Committee were hacked last year by Russian agents. Lawrence, using a Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity recapitulation of events, says:
  • On June 12 last year, Julian Assange announced that WikiLeaks had and would publish documents pertinent to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
  • On June 14, CrowdStrike, a cyber-security firm hired by the DNC, announced, without providing evidence, that it had found malware on DNC servers and had evidence that Russians were responsible for planting it.
  • On June 15, Guccifer 2.0 first appeared, took responsibility for the “hack” reported on June 14 and claimed to be a WikiLeaks source. It then posted the adulterated documents just described. 
  • On July 5, Guccifer again claimed he had remotely hacked DNC servers, and the operation was instantly described as another intrusion attributable to Russia. Virtually no media questioned this account.
It does not require too much thought to read into this sequence. With his June 12 announcement, Assange effectively put the DNC on notice that it had a little time, probably not much, to act preemptively against the imminent publication of damaging documents. Did the DNC quickly conjure Guccifer from thin air to create a cyber-saboteur whose fingers point to Russia? There is no evidence of this one way or the other, but emphatically it is legitimate to pose the question in the context of the VIPS chronology. WikiLeaks began publishing on July 22. By that time, the case alleging Russian interference in the 2016 elections process was taking firm root. In short order Assange would be written down as a “Russian agent.”
We now know that it could not be hack -- the smoking gun, as it were -- because of what the metadata reveals about download speeds. As Lawrence explains:
Forensicator’s first decisive findings, made public in the paper dated July 9, concerned the volume of the supposedly hacked material and what is called the transfer rate—the time a remote hack would require. The metadata established several facts in this regard with granular precision: On the evening of July 5, 2016, 1,976 megabytes of data were downloaded from the DNC’s server. The operation took 87 seconds. This yields a transfer rate of 22.7 megabytes per second.
These statistics are matters of record and essential to disproving the hack theory. No Internet service provider, such as a hacker would have had to use in mid-2016, was capable of downloading data at this speed. Compounding this contradiction, Guccifer claimed to have run his hack from Romania, which, for numerous reasons technically called delivery overheads, would slow down the speed of a hack even further from maximum achievable speeds.
What is the maximum achievable speed? Forensicator recently ran a test download of a comparable data volume (and using a server speed not available in 2016) 40 miles from his computer via a server 20 miles away and came up with a speed of 11.8 megabytes per second—half what the DNC operation would need were it a hack. Other investigators have built on this finding. Folden and Edward Loomis say a survey published August 3, 2016, by www.speedtest.net/reports is highly reliable and use it as their thumbnail index. It indicated that the highest average ISP speeds of first-half 2016 were achieved by Xfinity and Cox Communications. These speeds averaged 15.6 megabytes per second and 14.7 megabytes per second, respectively. Peak speeds at higher rates were recorded intermittently but still did not reach the required 22.7 megabytes per second.
“A speed of 22.7 megabytes is simply unobtainable, especially if we are talking about a transoceanic data transfer,” Folden said. “Based on the data we now have, what we’ve been calling a hack is impossible.” Last week Forensicator reported on a speed test he conducted more recently. It tightens the case considerably. “Transfer rates of 23 MB/s (Mega Bytes per second) are not just highly unlikely, but effectively impossible to accomplish when communicating over the Internet at any significant distance,” he wrote. “Further, local copy speeds are measured, demonstrating that 23 MB/s is a typical transfer rate when using a USB–2 flash device (thumb drive).”
Lawrence mentions a couple other forensic revelations of the metadata having to do with time stamps and the pasting of documents into a "a Russianified [W]ord document with Russian language settings and style headings," but to my mind it is the download-speed data -- something anyone who uses a computer and browses the internet understands intimately -- to which the intelligence community must respond:
By any balanced reckoning, the official case purporting to assign a systematic hacking effort to Russia, the events of mid-June and July 5 last year being the foundation of this case, is shabby to the point taxpayers should ask for their money back. The Intelligence Community Assessment, the supposedly definitive report featuring the “high confidence” dodge, was greeted as farcically flimsy when issued January 6. Ray McGovern calls it a disgrace to the intelligence profession. It is spotlessly free of evidence, front to back, pertaining to any events in which Russia is implicated. James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, admitted in May that “hand-picked” analysts from three agencies (not the 17 previously reported) drafted the ICA. There is a way to understand “hand-picked” that is less obvious than meets the eye: The report was sequestered from rigorous agency-wide reviews. This is the way these people have spoken to us for the past year.
Behind the ICA lie other indefensible realities. The FBI has never examined the DNC’s computer servers—an omission that is beyond preposterous. It has instead relied on the reports produced by Crowdstrike, a firm that drips with conflicting interests well beyond the fact that it is in the DNC’s employ. Dmitri Alperovitch, its co-founder and chief technology officer, is on the record as vigorously anti-Russian. He is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, which suffers the same prejudice. Problems such as this are many.
“We continue to stand by our report,” CrowdStrike said, upon seeing the VIPS blueprint of the investigation. CrowdStrike argues that by July 5 all malware had been removed from the DNC’s computers. But the presence or absence of malware by that time is entirely immaterial, because the event of July 5 is proven to have been a leak and not a hack. Given that malware has nothing to do with leaks, CrowdStrike’s logic appears to be circular.
In effect, the new forensic evidence considered here lands in a vacuum. We now enter a period when an official reply should be forthcoming. What the forensic people are now producing constitutes evidence, however one may view it, and it is the first scientifically derived evidence we have into any of the events in which Russia has been implicated. The investigators deserve a response, the betrayed professionals who formed VIPS as the WMD scandal unfolded in 2003 deserve it, and so do the rest of us. The cost of duplicity has rarely been so high.
Will there be a response? An "Aw, shucks" moment of mea culpa? I doubt it. All signs, such as recent evidence of a Google blacklist, point to the marginalization of dissent. The deep state has become so irrational it can no longer parry counter-narratives. It is sealed off and considers itself impregnable. Trump, for all his "As-Seen-on-TV" hucksterism, breached the castle walls. The effort underway is to make sure that doesn't happen again.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

GOP's Special Weapon: The Democratic Party

A good reason it is safe to assume that the GOP will remain the dominant party and retain the White House -- provided Trump doesn't blunder into a nuclear war, and provided Wall Street doesn't plunge the global economy into a second recession in ten years -- is that there is an existential split within the Democratic Party. The Bernie-vs.-Hillary, socialists-vs.-capitalists, young-vs.-old divisions have not been mended, but they have not blown up either; rather, they are frozen in an unhealthy stasis.

The Democratic Party's hope of taking back the House of Representatives in 2018 is dependent on how it does in California. But California, the aircraft carrier of Democratic power, is locked in a nasty, potentially litigious, leadership battle for the state party, as Adam Nagourney describes this morning in "Democratic Fight in California Is a Warning for the National Party":
California Democrats face a critical political challenge in 2018 as they seek to capture as many as seven Republican congressional seats, most of them in Southern California, a central part of the national party’s effort to win back Congress. California is heading into a potentially turbulent governor’s race next year as Mr. Brown — a widely respected, stabilizing force in Democratic politics — steps down after two terms. The party could also be enmeshed in a Senate race if Dianne Feinstein, who is 84, does not seek re-election next year.
The fight in this bluest of states has national repercussions for Democrats facing similar struggles about what the party should stand for — and how aggressive it should be in challenging Republicans — as it prepares for the 2018 congressional elections.
[snip]
Steve McMahon, a Democratic consultant who advised Howard Dean, the Vermont governor, when he ran for president in 2004, compared what is happening with Democrats in California to the Tea Party’s emergence in heavily Republican districts in 2010.
Mr. McMahon said these struggles would probably move the party to the left, with one immediate result: Democrats in places like California will come under increasing pressure to support single-payer health care, much the same way opposition to the Iraq war, a central issue for Mr. Dean, became a litmus test issue for Democrats in 2004.
“You tend to see these kinds of things first in areas where there is single-party dominance,” Mr. McMahon said. “You’re going to start seeing this in other parts of the country in Democratic primaries — typically in districts where there is not an effective voice on the right. There will be those left-further left primaries in those districts where the further-left nominee will win.”
I don't see it that way. Yes, there might be some rhetorical platform drift leftward. But I don't see the moneybags yielding any substantive control. Look at the primary result in the Seattle mayor's race. Despite there being a cornucopia of Bernista candidates to choose from, Obama's U.S. Attorney, Jenny Durkan, the neoliberal's choice, trounced the field -- and this in the progressive's Oz, where the "Fight for $15" was won and where a firebrand socialist sits on the city council.

If the moneybags keep control of the Democratic Party, Republicans maintain their majority.