SOMERSET, KY — The CIA has clear evidence that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election to assist Donald Trump. That’s what the Washington Post reported last week.
Trump fired back. The assertion isn’t true, he said, and added that it comes from the same intelligence agency that got it all wrong about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Other skeptics of the Russian election interference noted with bottomless gravity that the disclosure was made by the same newspaper that missed so badly in understanding what was happening in the 2016 presidential race — along with the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Atlantic, and so many other prominent American newsrooms.
Do you feel, as I do, that we are playable and we are getting played? Do you feel, as I do, that the forces of darkness and power that are playing us with such insolence and skill do so knowing that they will succeed? In electing an odious surprise minority candidate to be president, likely with the help of Russian intelligence capacity, U.S. voters also cemented right wing power in the House, the Senate, and most enduringly, the Supreme Court.
Do you recognize similarities to other body blow shocks to the republic? So much of the turmoil that we’ve endured as Americans this century started with information manipulation.
Example 1: In August 2001 President George Bush tossed aside the accurate CIA-prepared national intelligence briefing — “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” After the memo proved murderously prophetic he relied on the same agency’s woefully wrong assessment of Iraqi WMD to start a war.
Example 2: Wall Street bankers bundled worthless mortgages with arcane names — alternative mortgage instruments, collateralized debt obligations — and sold them to investors who trusted that the Security Exchange Commission was doing its job. Bankers made billions in fees to inflate a housing bubble that burst. Six million people lost their homes. Eight million lost their jobs. One poor schmuck went to jail. All the rest of us paid out the ying-yang to stabilize the finance sector and the global economy so the bankers could make billions again financing bad stuff — like coal mines in the Philippines, oil wells in the Arctic, and pipelines across the Great Plains.
Example 3: In 2013 a young data and computer manager, Edward Snowden, left his National Security Agency posting in Hawaii with a trove of top secret files. The files revealed how the U.S., despite the sworn testimony of NSA chiefs who denied it, had developed the surveillance capacity to intercept, track, analyze, and store data from virtually every online and cell phone communication on Earth. Not only that but one digital communication company – Verizon — was court-ordered to share with the government the files of their customers. The U.S. wants to prosecute Snowden for stealing state secrets, although the government has no reticence about stealing ours. Much of America and the world considers him a hero.
Example 4: Snowden’s heroics have more relevance now. Here’s why. Given such surveillance capacity it’s logical to ask why the Obama government is having so much trouble making the case that Russia intervened to influence the 2016 election. The CIA says it’s true. The FBI says it ain’t so. That’s the very same FBI that produced another off-the-hook communications-related fraud and body blow. It intervened in the final weeks of the campaign to accuse Clinton of hiding more of those not- significant-at-all emails, and then rescinded the accusation. Clinton lost the election because 80,000 voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin may have been sufficiently swayed by the FBI’s recklessness to either vote for Trump or stay home.
Election Makes Strange and Dangerous Sense
Example 5: The 2016 election results make more sense if Russia, WikiLeaks, the Alt-Right, the Trump campaign, or any of the other architects of fakery and fraud know that they can 1) digitally roam the email caches of Hillary Clinton and her colleagues, 2) steadily feed the chum of what they find to the frenzy of sharks in important newsrooms, 3) lie and exaggerate and deflect without consequences, and 4) know it will work.
In the age of fake news, diminished newsroom revenue, and money-generating clicks, a minor fuss (and easy-to-get story) about Clinton’s State Department emails turned into the signature criticism of her candidacy. Mainstream, online, and nonprofit newsroom reporters covering the campaign consumed time and screen space pondering the private correspondence of stolen emails and not nearly enough time discovering the thieves. If Woodward and Bernstein had deployed the same technique in the early 1970s, the Watergate scandal would never have reached the White House.
Fake news sites, meanwhile, used Facebook to churn out all manner of bullshit tales of Clinton misbehavior that Trump himself often cited and his supporters embraced as the truth.
So here we are, contending with yet another disastrous example of information manipulation that puts the republic in danger. The United States is about to swear in a president that one U.S. intelligence agency says was elected with the digital and intelligence assistance of a foreign nation, and another U.S. intelligence agency swears it isn’t so. The fake news sites celebrate the national information vertigo. The mainstream newsrooms challenge each other for the next disclosure, but what they report is neither airtight nor trustworthy. Those same newsrooms sustained systemic institutional collapses in 2016 by focusing on the unimportant and dismissing as immature and reckless the biggest blockbuster disclosure of the campaign, one that Trump himself was desperate for everyone to know: the election really was rigged.
— Keith Schneider
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