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Dec 27 2017

The Russian Connection: Putin’s Useful Idiots

Who benefits most from Donald Trump, the GOP and conservative news outlets attacking the credibility of Robert Mueller, the investigation into Trump’s Russian connections, the FBi and US intelligence agencies? The is only one answer, Vladimir Putin. Diminishing the global standing of the US has been Putin’s goal since the fall of the Soviet Union. He found a useful idiot in Donald Trump, a failed real estate mogul with massive debt and financial needs. Using an army of trolls and hackers to fill the internet and the main stream news media with conspiracy theories and misinformation were all tools that Putin has used. Putin’s goal is to make Russia great again at the expense of the Unites States. He found useful idiots in Donald Trump, his friends and family and the GOP to help in achieving that goal.

Kremlin trolls burned across the Internet as Washington debated options
By Adam Entous, Ellen Nakashima and Greg Jaffe, Washington Post

The first email arrived in the inbox of CounterPunch, a left-leaning American news and opinion website, at 3:26 a.m. — the middle of the day in Moscow.

“Hello, my name is Alice Donovan and I’m a beginner freelance journalist,” read the Feb. 26, 2016, message.

The FBI was tracking Donovan as part of a months-long counterintelligence operation code-named “NorthernNight.” Internal bureau reports described her as a pseudonymous foot soldier in an army of Kremlin-led trolls seeking to undermine America’s democratic institutions.

Her first articles as a freelancer for CounterPunch and at least 10 other online publications weren’t especially political. As the 2016 presidential election heated up, Donovan’s message shifted. Increasingly, she seemed to be doing the Kremlin’s bidding by stoking discontent toward Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton and touting WikiLeaks, which U.S. officials say was a tool of Russia’s broad influence operation to affect the presidential race. [..]

The events surrounding the FBI’s NorthernNight investigation follow a pattern that repeated for years as the Russian threat was building: U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies saw some warning signs of Russian meddling in Europe and later in the United States but never fully grasped the breadth of the Kremlin’s ambitions. Top U.S. policymakers didn’t appreciate the dangers, then scrambled to draw up options to fight back. In the end, big plans died of internal disagreement, a fear of making matters worse or a misguided belief in the resilience of American society and its democratic institutions.

One previously unreported order — a sweeping presidential finding to combat global cyberthreats — prompted U.S. spy agencies to plan a half-dozen specific operations to counter the Russian threat. But one year after those instructions were given, the Trump White House remains divided over whether to act, intelligence officials said.

This account of the United States’ piecemeal response to the Russian disinformation threat is based on interviews with dozens of current and former senior U.S. officials at the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department, and U.S. and European intelligence services, as well as NATO representatives and top European diplomats.

The miscalculations and bureaucratic inertia that left the United States vulnerable to Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election trace back to decisions made at the end of the Cold War, when senior policymakers assumed Moscow would be a partner and largely pulled the United States out of information warfare. When relations soured, officials dismissed Russia as a “third-rate regional power” that would limit its meddling to the fledgling democracies on its periphery.

Senior U.S. officials didn’t think Russia would dare shift its focus to the United States.

“I thought our ground was not as fertile,” said Antony J. Blinken, President Barack Obama’s deputy secretary of state. “We believed that the truth shall set you free, that the truth would prevail. That proved a bit naive.” [..]

After top White House officials received intelligence in the summer of 2016 about Putin’s efforts to help Trump, the deadlocked debate over covert options to counter the Kremlin was revived. Obama was loath to take any action that might prompt the Russians to disrupt voting. So he warned Putin to back off and then watched to see what the Russians would do.

After the election, Obama’s advisers moved to finalize a package of retaliatory measures.

Officials briefly considered rushing out an overarching new order, known as a presidential finding, that for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union would authorize sweeping covert operations against Russia. But they opted against such a far-reaching approach. Instead, the White House decided on a targeted cyber-response that would make use of an existing presidential finding designed to combat cyberthreats around the world rather than from Russia specifically.

As a supplement to the cyber finding, Obama signed a separate, narrower order, known as a “Memorandum of Notification,” which gave the CIA the authority to plan operations against Russia. Senior administration and intelligence officials discussed a half-dozen specific actions, some of which required implants in Russian networks that could be triggered remotely to attack computer systems.

Members of the Obama administration expected that the CIA would need a few weeks or, in some cases, months to finish planning for the proposed operations.

“Those actions were cooked,” said a former official. “They had been vetted and agreed to in concept.”

Obama left behind a road map. Trump would have to decide whether to implement it.

Before Trump took office, a U.S. government delegation flew to NATO headquarters in Brussels to brief allies on what American intelligence agencies had learned about Russian tactics during the presidential election.

U.S. officials are normally reluctant to share sensitive intelligence with the alliance’s main decision-making body. But an exception was made in this case to help “fireproof” all 28 allies in case Russia targeted them next, a senior U.S. official said. [..]

For the first time since the days after 9/11, the American officials in Brussels sounded overwhelmed and humbled, said a European ambassador in the room.

When the briefers finished, the allies made clear to the Americans that little in the presentation surprised them.

“This is what we’ve been telling you for some time,” the Europeans said, according to Lute, the NATO ambassador. “This is what we live with. Welcome to our lives.”

After Trump took office, Russia’s army of trolls began to shift their focus within the United States, according to U.S. intelligence reports. Instead of spreading messages to bolster Trump, they returned to their long-held objective of sowing discord in U.S. society and undermining American global influence. Trump’s presidency and policies became a Russian disinformation target. [..]

The Kremlin has given little indication that it intends to back off its disinformation campaign inside the United States. More than a year after the FBI first identified Alice Donovan as a probable Russian troll, she’s still pitching stories to U.S. publications.

 

Trump and the GOP are a receptive audience for Kremlin led attacks on the FBI. Del Quentin Wilber, reporter for The Wall Street Journal, talks with Joy Reid about the Republican attacks on the FBI and its leadership as they try to weaken any potential case against Donald Trump.

 

Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia, talks with Joy Reid about Russian president Vladimir Putin’s use of disinformation and distortion both at home and abroad as a standard matter of course, not just in 2016.

 

There are legitimate questions as to why Trump has refused to criticize Putin. One of the most plausible reasons would be Trump’s admiration for Putin’s authoritarian powers to control the news media and put his critics in jail. The other explanation is fear. The fear that whatever information the former KGB head has would be released to the American press, or worse prosecutors, if Trump turns on him.