Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Hill Releases a New Guccifer 2.0 Leak According to the Same Old Formula

Earlier today, The Hill published an article concerning the latest leak from Guccifer 2.0. The article is fourteen paragraphs long--and every bit as formulaic as a sonnet (albeit without the rhyme scheme).

Instead of arguing that the media routinely compartmentalizes and marginalizes all substantive discussion of Guccifer 2.0, I'll let a paragraph-by-paragraph summary of this article make that argument for me.


Paragraph 1: There's a new leak from Guccifer 2.0

Paragraph 2: The leak includes information concerning two Democratic donors and research on one prominent Republican (Sarah Palin).

Paragraph 3: Guccifer 2.0 was motivated to share this data with The Hill because WikiLeaks is dragging its feet and the press is no longer paying much attention to the DNC breach.

Paragraph 4: Even though the new leak provides interesting information about the DNC, The Hill is far more interested in what it reveals about Guccifer 2.0. Read it yourself:
The documents provide some insight into how the DNC handled high-profile donation scandals. But the choice of documents revealed to The Hill also provides insight into the enigmatic Guccifer 2.0.
Paragraph 5: The Democrats don't want candidates associated with donor Norman Hsu to be contaminated by the scandal that led to Hsu's conviction and sentencing in 2009.

Paragraph 6: Lobbyist Paul J. Magliocchetti is a known associate of Representative John Murtha (a Pennsylvania Democrat), but since Magliocchetti pleaded guilty to campaign finance charges in 2010, the important thing to remember is that he also donated to a lot of Republicans.

Paragraph 7: The scandals surrounding Hsu and Magliocchetti are both really old, so it seems strange that a lone Romanian hacker would have had the intimate knowledge of American politics necessary to understand the importance of sharing those two particular items with The Hill.

Paragraph 8: Guccifer 2.0 probably isn't who he says because his tools "were matched to Russian intelligence agencies" and because the hacker "struggled to speak in Romanian."

Paragraph 9: Some people (no one mentioned by name) think Russians are behind the hack, but others (Donald Trump singled out for attention) think the hack is a "false flag" operation run by the DNC.

Paragraph 10: Guccifer 2.0 came out of nowhere.

Paragraph 11: The Guccifer 2.0 moniker is an homage to Guccifer, the Romanian hacker who, according to FBI Director James Comey, lied about hacking into the server.

Paragraph 12: The DNC collected a bunch of silly things Sarah Palin said and wrote, and Guccifer 2.0 handed those things over to The Hill.

Paragraph 13: The Hill also received a 10,000-name database from Guccifer 2.0, along with some other donor data.

Paragraph 14: The DNC remains confident that Russians are behind the breach, according to an unnamed senior official who is apparently relying on the pronouncement of unnamed "experts."


See how that works? Of fourteen paragraphs, only five (the second, fifth, sixth, twelfth, and thirteenth) concern the leaked materials.

And how strange that the longest paragraph by far (the eleventh, which is 50% longer than any other paragraph in the piece) is more focused on Guccifer than on Guccifer 2.0.

But the most troubling paragraph from my perspective is the eighth, which sins twice in three short lines. It begins by failing to identify the DNC's hired cybersecurity company (CrowdStrike) as the agency responsible for matching the hacker's tools to those of "Russian intelligence agencies." Then, without even stopping to wonder why there are two competing stories of how Guccifer 2.0 accessed the DNC network (a zeroday exploit of NGP VAN vs. a spear phishing campaign via Gmail), writer Joe Uchill goes on to assert that Guccifer 2.0 doesn't "speak" Romanian well. That assertion is presumably based on Motherboard's linguistic analysis of typed responses from Guccifer 2.0 to questions posed to him in Romanian, English, and Russian.

The Motherboard article features remarks from an expert in "Slavic syntax" who is skeptical about Guccifer 2.0's native language because of the way the hacker uses and misuses definite and indefinite articles. Unfortunately, no one can ask this linguist for further details because s/he preferred to "remain anonymous"--since we all know about the severe repercussions people face when they opine publicly about definite articles. The Motherboard piece goes on to point out that Guccifer 2.0's expertise in Romanian is questionable because he sometimes misused diacritics in his typed responses, as when he wrote "limbă" where the typical Romanian would have written plain "limba."

It's especially funny that The Hill relies on this weak argument in the context of an article that fails to double the 't' in "forgetting" (paragraph 3) and omits the 'i' from "paired" (paragraph 13). Since Americans ordinarily don't make such mistakes, The Hill plainly needs to investigate this Uchill fellow to make sure he isn't a Romanian spy.

Of course, the paragraph that should trouble me most is the fourteenth, in which Uchill drags the Russians back into the story despite having last touched on them five paragraphs earlier. But those of us who are following the Guccifer 2.0 story have come to expect articles to end on such non sequiturs. The point of these stories is almost invariably to lead readers to the conclusion that Guccifer 2.0 is probably a Russian operative, and the easiest way to imbue a shaky conclusion with a sense of finality is to place it at the end of an article--as Uchill does.

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