Shades of Watergate — the fake Russian Hacking

Pub­lished on Con­sor­ti­um News.

The Demo­crat­ic Nation­al Com­mit­tee (DNC) of the USA has been hacked — cue a nation­al Amer­ic­an trauma, alleg­a­tions of dirty tricks, fears that demo­cracy has been sub­ver­ted, all lead­ing to what the next US pres­id­ent would call “our long nation­al night­mare”.

But, no, I am not talk­ing about the cur­rent Russo-phobic hys­teria cur­rently engulf­ing the US media, replete with claims about “fake news”, expelled Rus­si­an dip­lo­mats, and a lack of skep­ti­cism about the evid­ence-lite hack­ing alleg­a­tions.

Instead I am dip­ping back into his­tory — the old Water­gate Scan­dal — when Richard Nixon’s “plumb­ers” stole inform­a­tion the old-fash­ioned way; they broke into the DNC offices, rifled the files and planted listen­ing devices. On 17 June 1972, when police cap­tured five burg­lars inside the DNC offices at the Water­gate build­ing in Wash­ing­ton, the case slowly unfol­ded over the next two years until Pres­id­ent Nix­on resigned on 9 August 1974, and was replaced by Vice Pres­id­ent Ger­ald Ford who declared “our long nation­al night­mare is over”.

Dur­ing those two years, The Wash­ing­ton Post became inter­na­tion­ally and jus­ti­fi­ably fam­ous for break­ing the story about Richard Nixon’s role in the Water­gate cov­er-up and — since then — gen­er­a­tions of cub report­ers have dreamed of being the next Wood­ward or Bern­stein. Besides lead­ing to the down­fall of the men­dacious and para­noid Nix­on, the scan­dal con­trib­uted to the rein­ing in of an out-of-con­trol intel­li­gence estab­lish­ment cul­min­at­ing in the Church Com­mit­tee hear­ings of 1975.

What fol­lowed was great­er, if unfor­tu­nately tem­por­ary, con­trol of the US intel­li­gence agen­cies and at least an appar­ent respect for the rights of Amer­ic­an cit­izens under the terms of the US Con­sti­tu­tion. The work of The Wash­ing­ton Post then was indeed rel­ev­ant and world chan­ging.

The film depic­tion of the Post’s invest­ig­a­tion — All the President’s Men — cel­eb­rated this exposé and con­firmed in West­ern minds that our won­der­ful free press spoke truth to power.  And per­haps, in this case, the press did (although I have to say that I pre­ferred the melt­down scene in the proph­et­ic film The Net­work, which envi­sioned the slide of the news media into rat­ings-driv­en mad­ness).

But — regard­ing The Wash­ing­ton Post — how the mighty have fallen. Over the last couple of months, The Post has blown what was left of its journ­al­ist­ic repu­ta­tion out of the water.

First it unblush­ingly repor­ted the Pro­pOrNot “black­list” of “fake news” inter­net sites that were allegedly work­ing at the Kremlin’s com­mand to swing the US elec­tion to Don­ald Trump, except that list encom­passed many of the most reput­able inde­pend­ent (ie not US cor­por­ate-owned) Eng­lish-lan­guage inter­na­tion­al news sites. Threatened with angry writs from some of the sites, the paper quickly prin­ted a dis­claim­er dis­tan­cing itself from the anonym­ous people behind Pro­pOrNot, but still not apo­lo­gising for the McCarthy­ist­ic smear.

Then, last Fri­day, the paper was at it again — breath­lessly report­ing that the Ver­mont energy grid was appar­ently hacked by the scape­goat du jour, Rus­sia. Although there should have been some obvi­ous ques­tions asked: why Ver­mont?  What has that state ever done to Rus­sia? Well, not much as it turns out; nor Rus­sia to Ver­mont.

Yet again the Post has revised its report­ing down to the fact that a laptop, com­pletely uncon­nec­ted to the grid accord­ing to the energy provider’s state­ment, had been infec­ted by mal­ware. In oth­er words, there was no Rus­si­an hack­ing into the Ver­mont power grid.

And yet, because it’s The Wash­ing­ton Post, this fake break­ing “news” was taken ser­i­ously and meta­stas­ised through the body polit­ic of Amer­ica and bey­ond. This Rus­si­an hack­ing became a “post-truth” real­ity, no mat­ter how fact-free the ori­gin­al story. (I hereby pro­pose a #fact­freed­iet for us all on Twit­ter for Janu­ary, so we can high­light this phe­nomen­on.)

But here is the obvi­ous next ques­tions: why did this non-story appear in The Wash­ing­ton Post and why now? Has the paper sud­denly fallen prey to a revamped Oper­a­tion Mock­ing­bird, its edit­or­i­al stuffed to the gills with CIA agents of influ­ence?

As I have writ­ten before, the CIA and its asso­ci­ates with­in the Deep State appear to be hell bent on under­min­ing the legit­im­acy of the Trump elec­tion res­ult and this hyp­ing of Rus­si­an hack­ing is one of the key weapons in this struggle. So per­haps the Deep State play­ers are (re)activating a few agents of influ­ence in the main­stream Amer­ic­an media?

But there may pos­sibly be a more tan­gen­tial explan­a­tion for The Wash­ing­ton Post’s plunge into fic­tion: Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon​.com and one of the wealth­i­est people in the world. Amazon is not only the favour­ite pur­vey­or of all goods online, but also sus­pec­ted (at least in the UK) of massive tax avoid­ance scams as well as abus­ive employ­ment prac­tices in the same coun­try.

Bezos is also, since 2013, the proud own­er of The Wash­ing­ton Post, a pur­chase that her­al­ded his unex­pec­ted busi­ness swerve into the old main­stream media. The deal to buy the news­pa­per was repor­ted in the busi­ness press to have cost him $250 mil­lion.

Inter­est­ingly in the same year Amazon cut a deal to devel­op a cloud-based ser­vice for the CIA — a deal worth a repor­ted $600 mil­lion over ten years. It also appears that this ser­vice has expan­ded across all 17 of America’s intel­li­gence agen­cies, so who can tell what it might be worth to Amazon now and in the future?

It is no doubt just an inter­est­ing coin­cid­ence that the Bezos-owned Wash­ing­ton Post is the fount of the cur­rent stream of CIA asser­tions that the Rus­si­ans are hack­ing key USA insti­tu­tions, start­ing with the DNC — which then some­how became “hack­ing the elec­tion” — and now the util­ity grid. Bezos him­self has asser­ted that he exerts no dir­ect con­trol over the edit­or­i­al decisions of the news­pa­per, and he has left in place many of the neo­con­ser­vat­ive edit­ors who pre­ceded his stew­ard­ship, so there may not be any need for dir­ect orders.

Of course, all state-level play­ers, includ­ing the Rus­si­ans and cer­tainly the Amer­ic­ans, are going to be prob­ing the basic sys­tems under­pin­ning all our coun­tries for vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies.  That is what intel­li­gence agen­cies do, and it is also what mer­cen­ary spy com­pan­ies do on behalf of their cor­por­ate cli­ents, and what hack­ers (either of the crim­in­al fla­vour or the socially-minded hackt­iv­ists) do too. The dodgy mal­ware, the code, the vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies are all out there, often for sale or squir­relled away by the nation­al spy agen­cies for poten­tial future advant­age.

Whatever the truth about the DNC hack­ing alleg­a­tions, The Wash­ing­ton Post sadly seems unin­ter­ested in prop­erly pur­su­ing it — indeed it seems inter­ested in little bey­ond pur­su­ing the spe­cif­ic polit­ic­al agenda of fan­ning a dan­ger­ous dis­trust of Rus­sia and under­min­ing the legit­im­acy of the Pres­id­ent-elect Trump.

If such a com­pli­ant cor­por­ate cul­ture had exis­ted back in 1972 at the time of the first DNC “hack”, the Water­gate Scan­dal would surely nev­er have been exposed. And the old media still won­ders why it is no longer trus­ted?