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3 Jul, 2018 23:50

‘Sound conclusions’: Senate panel backs ‘Russiagate’ intel report

‘Sound conclusions’: Senate panel backs ‘Russiagate’ intel report

The Senate Intelligence Committee endorsed the intelligence community assessment (ICA) that Russia meddled in the US presidential election, taking the word of the people involved that everything was done properly.

The committee finds that the ICA is “a sound intelligence product,” and “believes the conclusions of the ICA are sound,” said the report released on Tuesday by Chairman Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) and endorsed by ranking member Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia).

Numerous media outlets pointed out how the bipartisan Senate report disagreed with the House panel’s conclusions from back in April. The #Resistance was all excited too.

The actual document, however, is long on faith and assertions and short on evidence. Time and again, the committee claims that their own conclusions, as well as those of the ICA, have been confirmed by “open source” information. That’s the catch-all phrase of the veritable cottage industry of self-proclaimed experts on “Russian bots” and trolls, who have used the “Russiagate” panic to get embedded in social media.

Open sources

The January 2017 ICA document was similarly short on evidence and padded out by a seven-page report on RT activities in the US, based on “open-source” information dating back to 2012. Here is the only instance in which the committee actually criticizes the ICA, saying it “fails to provide an updated assessment of this capability in 2016,” especially since “this information was available in open source.”

Either way, none of that matters, because the “ICA does not comment on the potential effectiveness of this propaganda campaign,” the committee report says. So why bring up RT to begin with, let alone make it a large chunk of the entire assessment?

As for the evidence the committee itself has managed to dig up, it has largely consisted of admissions by social media giants that RT may have promoted some tweets and Facebook posts, and that some people posted in Cyrillic.

The second valuable finding in Tuesday’s report debunks the fraudulent talking point that “seventeen US intelligence agencies” blamed Russia for allegedly interfering in the election, while also providing an excuse for why only a handful of analysts from three agencies were involved.

“Only three agencies were represented in the drafting process, because of the extreme sensitivity of the sources and methods involved,” the committee says.

If they say so themselves...

Here is where it gets interesting. The committee “had to rely on agencies that the sensitive information and accesses had been accurately reported.” In other words, they had to take the agencies’ own word for it.

Secondly, the senators “heard consistently” from the intelligence personnel involved with the report that they were “under no politically motivated pressure to reach any conclusions.” Certainly, if you ignore the facts that President Barack Obama was a Democrat and it was Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party that originated the claim that Russia had interfered in the election.

Another claim taken on faith was that the so-called Steele Dossier “did not in any way inform the analysis in the ICA - including the key findings - because it was unverified information and had not been disseminated as serialized intelligence reporting.”

Yet the dossier was used by the FBI to secure four FISA surveillance warrants on a former Trump campaign aide, which were conducted by the NSA. Personnel from both agencies took part in writing the ICA.

Contrast the committee’s determination to accept the intelligence agencies’ claims at face value with their refusal to take the word of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who categorically denied that Moscow meddled in the US presidential election. Instead, the committee “concurs with intelligence and open-source assessments” (that phrase again) that the Russian “influence campaign” was approved by Putin personally.

The timing of the Burr-Warner report’s release is interesting in itself. It dropped right before the Fourth of July, with the impending holiday celebrations discouraging detailed scrutiny. Its release also coincided with the Senate Republican delegation’s visit to Moscow, ahead of the scheduled July 16 summit between the US and Russian presidents in Helsinki, Finland.

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