Friday, August 12, 2016

When Shooting the Messenger Isn't Enough: How the Guccifer 2.0 Contamination Justifies Shooting the Messenger's Acquaintances

Earlier today, ThreatConnect released another blog post about Guccifer 2.0. The post purports to investigate connections between Guccifer 2.0 and an upstart online publication called DCLeaks, but its purpose is actually much larger, as it seeks to discredit (or at least to distract attention from) the leaked correspondence of General Philip Breedlove (now retired), who was dedicated to provoking conflict with Russia in his capacity as Supreme Commander of NATO from May of 2013 to May of 2016.

As Lee Fang and Zaid Jilani of The Intercept report:
In the European press, Breedlove has been portrayed as a hawkish figure known for leaning on allied nations to ditch diplomacy and to adopt a more confrontational role against Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine. Breedlove, testifying before Congress earlier in February of this year, called Russia “a long-term existential threat to the United States and to our European allies.”
Der Spiegel reported that Breedlove “stunned” German leaders with a surprise announcement in 2015 claiming that pro-Russian separatists had “upped the ante” in eastern Ukraine with “well over a thousand combat vehicles, Russian combat forces, some of the most sophisticated air defense, battalions of artillery” sent to Donbass, a center of the conflict.
Breedlove’s numbers were “significantly higher” than the figures known to NATO intelligence agencies and seemed exaggerated to German officials. The announcement appeared to be a provocation designed to disrupt mediation efforts led by Chancellor Angela Merkel.
In previous instances, German officials believed Breedlove overestimated Russian forces along the border with Ukraine by as many as 20,000 troops and found that the general had falsely claimed that several Russian military assets near the Ukrainian border were part of a special build-up in preparation for a large-scale invasion of the country. In fact, much of the Russian military equipment identified by Breedlove, the Germans said, had been stored there well before the revolution in Ukraine.
Clearly, our European allies saw Breedlove for the provocateur that he was even before DCLeaks released his emails, which reveal Breedlove's frustration with "Obama's instruction not to start a war" and his desire for advice on how he might change the president's mind. He reached out to Colin Powell on the question of "how to frame this opportunity" to escalate conflict with Russia instead of focusing "on ISIL all the time."

But what does Breedlove have to do with Guccifer 2.0?

Well, that's where the convoluted logic of the ThreatConnect blog post comes into play. 

The ThreatConnect research team begins by establishing a connection between Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks. They then question the identity of the supposed "American hacktivists" behind DCLeaks and call attention to the fact that the server these hacktivists use has the same name as the server used by "Fancy Bear" (CrowdStrike's name for one of two Russian cyberintelligence outfits that it alleges to be responsible for the DNC data breach).

The blog entry concludes by sounding an alarm that we've grown accustomed to hearing in conjunction with Guccifer 2.0--except that the alarm is now broadened to include DCLeaks by virtue of its association with Guccifer 2.0:
In our previous blog post, we indicated that Russia’s Guccifer 2.0 denial and deception campaign had evolved into an active measures campaign, or influence operation, by posting thousands of compromised DNC files to WikiLeaks. DCLeaks provides Russia with another platform that they can use to hide their hand and conduct influence operations in the US. Such operations may ultimately help Russia sway public opinion or media coverage in a way that benefits Moscow. Irrespective of what Russia ultimately hopes to achieve, the very fact that a foreign actor is attempting to influence the US election should prompt every voter to carefully inspect and weigh all of the data, all of the variables, and all of the facts that enter into their personal decision making process.
Yesterday, Bloomberg released an article in anticipation of the rhetoric we are now hearing from cybersecurity spokespeople such as the ThreatConnect research team:
Weeks before the Democratic convention was upended by 20,000 leaked e-mails released through WikiLeaks, another little-known website began posting the secrets of a top NATO general, billionaire George Soros’ philanthropy and a Chicago-based Clinton campaign volunteer.
Security experts now say that site, DCLeaks.com, with its spiffy capitol-dome logo, shows the marks of the same Russian intelligence outfit that targeted the Democratic political organizations.
The Bloomberg article isn't especially interested in the connection between Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks, but it's very interested in establishing the connection between DCLeaks and General Breedlove so as to reframe the discussion of his leaked emails:
The biggest revelation on DCLeaks involves U.S. Gen. Philip Breedlove, who retired in May and was formerly the top military commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. E-mails from Breedlove’s personal account show him complaining that the Obama administration wasn’t paying enough attention to European security. (“I do not see this WH really ’engaged’,” he writes at one point, later wondering “how to work this personally with the POTUS.”) The Intercept subsequently wrote a story about the e-mails, picked up by some cable news channels, inflaming tensions between the U.S. and its European allies.
Please look carefully at the way Bloomberg spins the Breedlove story. Despite what the leaks show us, Bloomberg doesn't want us to think that the commander of NATO was trying to get Obama's ear for the purpose of escalating tensions with Russia; we just need to understand Breedlove as a lonely guy who wanted the president to pay more attention to him. And even though any fair reading of the article from The Intercept would conclude that its primary purpose was to reduce tensions between the U.S. and Russia (by calling attention to the fact that Obama refused to be drawn into Breedlove's bellicose agenda), Bloomberg's assessment is that Fang and Jilani are "inflaming tensions between the U.S. and its European allies." (See how that works? If you don't want to bomb Russia, you presumably want to bomb France and Germany.)

Those who haven't been paying attention to the Guccifer 2.0 story probably don't realize it yet, but history will show us that the summer of 2016 was the period when much of the U.S. government and many of its allies in the corporate media plunged us into the 21st-century version of McCarthyism.

The red-baiting is a lot like the candidacy of Donald Trump. It seems too clumsy and absurd to be taken seriously. And yet, the media keeps giving the new Red Scare so much uncritical attention that it has become a fixture of our political discourse.

This habit of shrugging off new information by pointing an accusatory finger at the source of the information essentially makes our leaders unassailable. If our government officials do anything reprehensible, then instead of taking them to task for their actions, we're supposed to be in the habit of assuming that their misdeeds were revealed to us as part of a Russian disinformation campaign.

I don't know whether DCLeaks has as strong a connection to the Russian intelligence community as ThreatConnect suggests, but since the Clinton media machine appears to be working overtime to manufacture our consent for the war with Russia that Clinton wants, I couldn't really blame Putin for using leaks to inform American citizens that it's the political leadership class of the U.S.--and not the Russians--who are spoiling for a fight.

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