The latest political bombshell in what has already been a truly bizarre presidential campaign is this: a top Clinton campaign official has claimed that the Russians are somehow meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign to help Donald Trump and discredit Hillary Clinton. Appearing on CNN on July 24, Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook claimed that all the damaging Wikileaks emails — the same emails that led to the high-profile resignation of DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz over the weekend — were actually the result of a devious plot by the Russians to derail the Clinton campaign on the eve of their convention.
And, of course, the same people you’d expect chimed in to support the accusations. You had former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul coming out and saying that the Russians were “meddling” with the campaign. (In fact, he had an anti-Russian and anti-Putin tweet barrage going the whole day) You had Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin saying that Putin had a “personal vendetta” against Hillary. You had CNN putting up huge “breaking news” headlines about the Russians all day long, starting with the Sunday morning talk show with Jake Tapper where Robby Mook first made the allegations.
But there’s something about this whole email conspiracy that sounds a lot like disinformation (what the Russians call dezinformatsiya), or the deliberate spreading of information and details in order to throw people off the trail of what’s really happening. It’s the same thing that the Democrats have blamed Russia of doing when it comes to Ukraine and Syria, and now it looks like they’re using the same tactics as well when it comes to the U.S. presidential race.
The basic outline of the disinformation story goes like this: Russian hacker groups known as “Cozy Bear” and “Fancy Bear” that are close to the Russian state intelligence services broke into U.S. government servers (including those of the Democratic National Committee) and compromised the contents of those servers. When they discovered that there was damaging emails in there about Clinton, these “state-sponsored” hackers then shared the information with Wikileaks, which then deliberately released this information on the eve of the Democratic National Convention in order to spread maximum mayhem and mischief.
And, like any disinformation campaign, there are enough elements of fact and plausibility to make it worth considering (at least, on cable TV). There’s the fact that the Trump campaign has said that they’d be willing to work with Russia in the future. There’s the whole strange “bromance” between Putin and Trump. There’s the fact that Russian hackers are known to have broken into U.S. government computer systems. There’s the strange relationship involving Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and Russia. There’s the fact that a Trump foreign policy advisor is reportedly cozy with the Russian energy company Gazprom. And there’s the fact that Trump has put the whole concept of defending NATO allies on the table once again (theoretically making it possible for Vladimir Putin to run rampant in the Baltics).
But, take a deep breath and take off your tinfoil hat. The real problem that the Clinton campaign is trying to obscure is that Hillary Clinton has been recklessly running matters of national security on her private email servers. So, rather than admitting that there was a plot within the Democratic Party to take down Bernie Sanders, rather than admitting that the Clinton campaign has been sloppy with the emails, the far more effective strategy is to just blame the Russians.
You have to watch CNN’s Erin Burnett trying to track down Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort and ask him about the accusations involving Russia to understand how bizarre this whole thing is. Paul Manafort looks slightly befuddled and says that the whole idea is “absurd.” He actually tells Burnett that they’re having an “absurd conversation” on live TV.
And, the Clinton campaign, when asked to back up the accusations, said they have no “smoking gun.” They point to unnamed “experts” and claim that everything they are saying is based on publicly available material. In other words, they have no idea of what actually happened. They’re just hoping American TV viewers connect all the dots and come up with their own conclusions. That is, the wrong conclusions.
That’s the beauty of disinformation. That’s the reason why the Americans were so enraged with the Russians when it came to Ukraine — there was always some bizarre but somehow plausible story from the Russians that they couldn’t quite penetrate. Just review all the CNN coverage over the downed flight over Ukraine — the Russians were continually trotting out new versions and new explanations.
Maybe a better term than “disinformation” is “History Channel logic.” Watch the phenomenally entertaining “Ancient Aliens” show on History Channel and you’ll get the idea of what this means. Using “History Channel logic,” any unexplained phenomenon on Planet Earth is shown to be evidence that aliens from another galaxy visited Earth. The narrator of the show always ponderously intones some bizarre suggestion involving aliens before asking, “Could it be…. as some ancient alien experts suggest… that ancient aliens [insert bizarre implausible idea].” There’s no proof, just a lot of very smart sounding people talking about unexplained phenomena.
That’s what the whole Clinton campaign accusation sounds like — a line from the History Channel’s “Ancient Aliens” show — “Could it be… that the Russians were really behind this attack?” For Hillary Clinton, there are two big advantages of this approach — it distracts attention away from what actually happened (a concerted effort by the Democratic Party to take down Bernie Sanders using factors such as religion) and it also casts blame and doubt on the Trump campaign. (Those evil Trump campaign managers, conspiring with the Russians!)
The only problem is that the Russians are deathly afraid of exactly this type of scenario happening within their own country. They fear that the U.S. has been behind the “color revolutions” in Ukraine and Georgia. They deeply fear that the U.S. is trying to meddle in their own upcoming parliamentary elections and possibly in the upcoming Russian presidential election in 2018. They’ve been absolutely on the record saying that they won’t stand for interference in the sovereignty of any state. They made very clear their efforts to distance themselves from the Brexit vote, which David Cameron and the Conservatives tried to portray as some sinister Russian plot to destabilize the UK.
So why would the Russians engage in efforts to meddle in American politics? And do it so brazenly?
So enough of all this “History Channel logic.” Enough with the disinformation (and the dezinformatsiya), the propaganda (and counter-propaganda), the lies, the insinuations and the accusations; instead, face up to the truth. The Russians aren’t trying to meddle in the U.S. presidential elections any more than aliens from outer space are meddling in the affairs of humans.