NSA Leak Answers No Questions About Russia, Asks Many About Election Integrity

Caitlin Johnstone
7 min readJun 6, 2017
Reality Winner (actual name)

Hours after I published my Big Fat Compendium Of Russiagate Debunkery, I started getting a lot of comments linking to an Intercept article I hadn’t yet seen. Some of the commenters were curious about my take on the article, others were made by establishment loyalists proudly sharing the link with self-assured scoffing and confident assertions that my demand for hard, testable proof of Russian hacking had been met in full. Turns out the Intercept had published a leaked NSA analysis of a suspected Russian phishing attempt upon a US voter registration outfits days before the November election, and this is literally the third paragraph in its article about that release:

While the document provides a rare window into the NSA’s understanding of the mechanics of Russian hacking, it does not show the underlying “raw” intelligence on which the analysis is based. A U.S. intelligence officer who declined to be identified cautioned against drawing too big a conclusion from the document because a single analysis is not necessarily definitive.

Now I enjoy a good conspiracy theory as much as anybody, but one of the annoying things about conspiracy theorists like the really high-octane Pizzagaters and Russiagaters is that any tiny bit of new information that doesn’t directly contradict their worldview gets instantly seized upon as full confirmation of everything they’ve ever believed about their pet theory. Words like “bombshell” and “smoking gun” get thrown around a lot, there’s a lot of chest-thumping and “ha ha, don’t you doubters feel stupid now” schtick, and I never begrudge them their fun, but that high always falters and collapses as reality inevitably comes crashing in and people start pointing out some other possible ways of looking at the new information.

So I really hate to be that girl and spoil your fun my lovely Russiagaters (believe me, I’ve been there), but this just ain’t what you were hoping it is. A leaked analysis containing none of the raw data being analyzed in that analysis does not come even remotely close to being the sort of hard evidence that those of us who are skeptical of your conspiracy theory would require. For the many, many reasons listed in the debunkery compendium, nothing but hard evidence will suffice.

The fact is, we’ve already seen analysis reports from intelligence agencies on the alleged Russian election meddling, like this one by the DHS and the FBI in December, and this one by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in January, and like the Intercept’s NSA leak those didn’t contain any raw intelligence either. I received the same “bombshell”, “smoking gun”, “ha ha bet you feel stupid now” comments when those reports came out as well, but none of that changed the fact that there has never, ever been even one shred of tangible evidence for people to look at apart from the say-so of official-sounding people that any Russian hacking occurred. The NSA leak differs in that the analysis is more detailed and in that it was leaked to the press rather than officially released, but the amount of hard evidence contained in it is the same: zero.

For this reason, Intercept staff went out of their way to drive this message home as well:

Additionally, the NSA was literally just shown to have been dead wrong about Russia meddling in the French election. This story got quickly buried and as of this writing is even suspiciously inconvenient to find on Google despite its having happened just a few days ago, with top results for expected keywords showing older articles asserting that Russia did hack the French election instead. For weeks establishment outlets were reporting as unquestionable fact that Russia was known to have hacked French electoral infrastructure, citing NSA chief Michael Rogers’ confident proclamation that NSA surveillance had “watched” this happen.

Trouble is, Rogers was so off the mark from France’s own findings that the French government’s head of cybersecurity Guillaume Poupard was absolutely baffled as to what he could have been talking about, since the attack “was so generic and simple that it could have been practically anyone.”

“Why did Admiral Rogers say that, like that, at that time? It really surprised me. It really surprised my European allies. And to be totally frank, when I spoke about it to my NSA counterparts and asked why did he say that, they didn’t really know how to reply either,” Poupard said in an interview with Associated Press.

There are two kinds of people in this world: those who were paying attention during the leadup to the Iraq invasion, and those who, in one way or another, lacked the maturity at the time to have done so. Anyone who was paying attention back then has been smelling a very familiar scent in the air lately; the same hysterical tension, the same skepticism-free convergence of the mass media upon a single Washington narrative, the same stubborn refusal to produce hard evidence for the extremely serious accusations being leveled, the same accusations of treason, conspiracy theorizing and subversion leveled against anyone who questions the official narrative. The only thing that’s different now is it’s a nuclear superpower that America’s unelected power establishment is gunning for, not some insolent OPEC nation.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and yet, as Karl Kaiser so eloquently put it, “In the world of Democratic loyalists the idea that reality should be observable is now a subversive conspiracy.”

On the flip side of the coin, a lot of Russiagate skeptics are pushing back really hard against anyone who had anything to do with the NSA leak, but I think the whole thing’s pretty interesting. A lot of new info has come out about source protection, how leakers can be tracked just by using color printers, and of course watching ol’ Julian ream the Intercept for failing to protect a source has been pretty cool, too.

He’s also aggressively defending the very anti-Trump leaker Reality Winner (which is a name you can just have now apparently), so I’m not sure how that’s going to fit with the whole “Assange is a Kremlin stooge” story the McCarthyists have been reflexively spewing whenever his name comes up.

Also interesting is that it looks like Trump, who has already denounced Chelsea Manning’s release and said he’d be “okay” with Attorney General Jeff Sessions prosecuting Assange, may be gearing up for an administration that is at least as brutal toward whistleblowers as Obama’s was.

What’s most interesting to me, however, is how little attention is being paid to discussion of election integrity amidst all the “bombshell”/“smoking gun”/“treason” talk. There’s plenty of Russia talk, there’s plenty of Trump talk, but despite the nature of the story in question, not many people are taking seriously the possibility that their electoral system could be vulnerable to foreign cyber meddling.

I mean, isn’t it weird? America has the very worst electoral system of all western democracies, the least secure, the most easily manipulated, and here’s this perfect opportunity to talk about the fact that the most powerful government on earth has such flimsy accountability to its people, but it’s being spent on this dopey Russia conspiracy theory for the lead-up to a new Comey hearing instead.

Watch this video by this smart guy:

In Detroit, the last election saw more votes than there were voters in 37 percent of its precincts. In this city where there were more votes than voters, in this city which was so horribly impacted by Clinton trade policies, 95 percent of voters supposedly cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton to Trump’s 3 percent. Ninety five percent. It’s amazing she still managed to lose Michigan, where Jill Stein fought unsuccessfully for thorough recounts.

What’s even weirder is that such a large percentage of the Intercept article these Democratic neocons keep circulating to fuel their McCarthyist agenda is explicitly about the need for greater election integrity in America. Since nobody seems to have read this part of the article, I’m going to close by leaving an excerpt here:

Whatever the investigation into the Trump campaign concludes, however, it pales in comparison to the threat posed to the legitimacy of U.S. elections if the infrastructure itself can’t be secured. The NSA conclusion “demonstrates that countries are looking at specific tactics for election manipulation, and we need to be vigilant in defense,” said Schneier. “Elections do two things: one choose the winner, and two, they convince the loser. To the extent the elections are vulnerable to hacking, we risk the legitimacy of the voting process, even if there is no actual hacking at the time.”

Throughout history, the transfer of power has been the moment of greatest weakness for societies, leading to untold bloodshed. The peaceful transfer of power is one of the greatest innovations of democracy.

“It’s not just that [an election] has to be fair, it has to be demonstrably fair, so that the loser says, ‘Yep, I lost fair and square.’ If you can’t do that, you’re screwed,” said Schneier. “They’ll tear themselves apart if they’re convinced it’s not accurate.”

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