Thursday, October 22, 2020

Flooding the Zone


Via ZDNet.

I'm going to be really skeptical in all directions about the report on Iranian interference in the election from our notoriously unqualified Director of National Intelligence, ex-Congressman John Ratcliffe, who got Trump's attention in 2017-18 alongside Devin Nunes as the two of them worked to turn the House Intelligence Committee into an adjunct of the Trump campaign, was criticized for not coming close to meeting the statutory requirements for the job

50 US Code § 3023, “Any individual nominated for appointment as Director of National Intelligence shall have extensive national security expertise.”

and lying about it in the most ridiculous way

Ratcliffe had repeatedly claimed to have been involved in a major terrorism financing case, saying at one point that he “convicted individuals who were funneling money to Hamas behind the front of a charitable organization,” but closer examination showed that Ratcliffe actually just conducted a policy review after a mistrial of the case, made no recommendations, and was not involved in the actual prosecution.

His official House of Representatives biography also asserted that Ratcliffe once “arrested 300 illegal aliens in a single day." He had long used that case, known as Operation Plymouth Rock, to prove that he was an immigration hard-liner. “Many people talk tough on immigration, but fewer actually put their money where their mouth is,” Ratcliffe said during his congressional campaign. “But don’t just take my word on it. Ask any of the over 300 illegal aliens I arrested in a single day.” That claim also proved false; Ratcliffe, who has never had a job with arrest authority, had indeed helped oversee a large-scale sweep of undocumented poultry workers. But his office had charged just 45 of them—and six of those cases were dismissed, including two who turned out to be wrongly arrested US citizens.

as if busting poultry workers was a national security issue in the first place. But the Senate confirmed him, at least in part to push the even less qualified (and even nastier) ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, out of the job to which he'd been illegally appointed. (Senate Judiciary, as I type, has just illegally reported Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett out of committee without a quorum for a Monday vote in the full Senate, and I'm thinking by January there will hardly be anybody in the government who's properly appointed.) 


U.S. officials on Wednesday night accused Iran of targeting American voters with faked but menacing emails and warned that both Iran and Russia had obtained voter data that could be used to endanger the upcoming election.

The disclosure by Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe at a hastily called news conference marked the first time this election cycle that a foreign adversary has been accused of targeting specific voters in a bid to undermine democratic confidence — just four years after Russian online operations marred the 2016 presidential vote.

The claim that Iran was behind the email operation, which came into view on Tuesday as Democrats in several states reported receiving emails demanding they vote for President Trump, was leveled without specific evidence. Other U.S. officials, speaking privately, stressed that Russia still remained the major threat to the 2020 election.

The emails in question are those things attributed to the "Proud Boys" organization directed to registered Democrats and ordering them to "change party affiliation" (a couple of weeks before the election?) and vote for Trump, see at top, that came out on Monday and Tuesday. 

The voter data in question seems to be public stuff, not hacked in any sense, and the lack of an explanation as to how the intelligence community managed to attribute them to Iran is pretty striking: here's the Reuters version 

Another tweet from Satter pointed me to an interesting thing about Iranian hacking: sometimes it isn't Iran:

Russian hackers piggy-backed on an Iranian cyber-espionage operation to attack government and industry organizations in dozens of countries while masquerading as attackers from the Islamic Republic, British and U.S. officials said on Monday [21 October].

The Russian group, known as “Turla” and accused by Estonian and Czech authorities of operating on behalf of Russia’s FSB security service, has used Iranian tools and computer infrastructure to successfully hack in to organizations in at least 20 different countries over the last 18 months, British security officials said.

Estonia, eh? 

Department of Homeland Security officials warned state and local election administrators on a call Wednesday that a foreign government was responsible for the online barrage, according to U.S. officials and state and local authorities who participated in the call. A DHS official also said authorities had detected holes in state and local election websites and instructed those participating to patch their online services.

Metadata gathered from dozens of the emails pointed to the use of servers in Saudi Arabia, Estonia, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates, according to numerous analysts.

So it looks to me at the very least like an overhasty attempt to finger Iran, in line with Trump's bothsides insistence that the the Intelligence Committee always blame somebody else whenever they're blaming Russia, to be fair to President Putin, and always be careful to suggest an attack on Republicans whenever they're announcing an attack on Democrats, though it might be hard for you to see how the Proud Boys spoof is an attack on Trump. 

I can see that, actually (Maddow and her colleagues professed that they couldn't); it underlines the connection between Trump and the Proud Boys organization, which officially endorses him in the race, and which he has refused to disavow (the guys he told at the debate the other week to "Stand back and stand by!" as if asking them to be ready to interfere with the election at any moment), and it's going to make you mad if you get one. It's pretty scary, too, obviously, to receive such a message, and think that wow, these goons know my name and address, but you're not going to just obey it and vote for Trump. More importantly, the inevitable publicity could make the PB and the president just look really horrible to people who haven't yet noticed how horrible they are. It has a reach beyond the recipients (who seem to be fewer than 2,000 people, nearly all from Alaska or Florida, and clearly unlikely to make a crucial difference in the election either way) to all of us.

But one of the more likely purposes, if Iran was the spoofing party, would be just to announce that they were there, messing around, getting the Americans to take them seriously. And by the same token if Russia was the actual spoofer (or Saudi Arabia, as the not always trustworthy Seth Abramson suggests), that would be to convey the impression that Iran was there too, providing support to Trump's contention that Russia isn't the only significant offender.

And nicely timed, just before tonight's debate, to give Trump something to talk about that is at least vaguely related to national security other than Hunter Biden and the intended October Surprise that has been failing all week. And perhaps to stop Trump from firing FBI director Christopher Wray, one of the last even slightly respectable figures in the government:

President Trump and his advisers have repeatedly discussed whether to fire FBI Director Christopher A. Wray after Election Day — a scenario that also could imperil the tenure of Attorney General William P. Barr as the president grows increasingly frustrated that federal law enforcement has not delivered his campaign the kind of last-minute boost that the FBI provided in 2016, according to people familiar with the matter.

People familiar with the discussions say Trump wants official action similar to the announcement made 11 days before the last presidential election by then-FBI Director James B. Comey, who informed Congress he had reopened an investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state after potential new evidence had been discovered.

He's going to fire Wray because Wray hasn't supplied him with a good October Surprise! Even Comey managed that! Though he too had to be fired. They just don't make FBI directors the way they used to back in Roy Cohn's day!

The structure of the press conference (Ratcliffe doing all the talking, the information sourced to DHS rather than FBI or the foreign intelligence agencies, Wray standing there silent except to reassure the public that the integrity of the election was intact, and the "other U.S. officials" clarifying, but not for attribution, that Iran's role was as yet pretty hypothetical and Russia remained our main cyber antagonist)  suggests that nobody in the intelligence community other than Ratcliffe himself is willing to stand behind the supposed finding. I find that, just as I'm not even interested in the debate as to whether the Hunter Biden "evidence" is real or not, because even though it's incredibly dodgy it also doesn't say anything actually bad about either Biden, so I'm not even interested in the source of this spoof, because it's clear that Ratcliffe means it in political terms, on behalf of Trump—and that it's bound to fail too in any event. 

Even if it's "real" in some sense, it's just more flooding the zone with shit, and it isn't even good shit. At all.

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