Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 presidential election is predicated on Russian intelligence having hacked the Democratic National Committee’s computers. Russia’s guilt is such an article of faith among our political class, that a Republican-controlled Congress imposed sanctions and President Trump signed on, substantially worsening relations with an important and potentially dangerous nation.
Outside the Acela Corridor, however, one finds more skepticism.
A lot of ordinary folks wonder why the DNC wouldn’t let any outside parties examine their server. Instead, the FBI accepted the word of CrowdStrike, a private contractor hired by the DNC, without any independent confirmation.
And a bunch of not so ordinary folks who know a thing or two about computers thinks there may be a simple explanation for the DNC’s unwillingness to let outsiders have a peek at the evidence: There isn’t any. The Russian hacking that’s caused so much division and turmoil at home and abroad never really happened. It was all a ruse concocted by CrowdStrike.
One such skeptic is an anonymous journalist and computer aficionado who goes by the pseudonym “Adam Carter.” Carter has spent the last couple of years cataloging evidence, unearthed by himself and others, that CrowdStrike engaged in a disinformation campaign, inventing not just a fake Russian hack but also a fake hacker called “Guccifer 2.0.” Much, but by no means all, of Carter’s evidence is technical. And he’s unquestionably found an inconsistency in the Russia narrative that ought to raise doubts in even the most computer illiterate congressman’s mind.
Julian Assange’s Threat
But first, why on earth would a private contractor hired by the DNC engage in such tactics? For motive, we need to go back to June 12, 2016, when Wikileaks founder Julian Assange made an announcement that was sure to worry Hillary Clinton and her closest advisers:
We have upcoming leaks in relation to Hillary Clinton . . . We have emails pending publication.
A little less than three months earlier, on March 19, hostile actors had gotten ahold of all the emails in campaign chairman John Podesta’s main Gmail account. You may have heard that Podesta’s emails were “hacked,” but they weren’t. There were no faraway cyber-nerds searching for some vulnerability in the DNC network. He fell for a common “spear phishing” scam. A fake email from Google arrived, saying he needed to change his password and providing a link. The link was also fake. Instead of changing his password, Podesta gave it away—along with all of his campaign emails.
The Clinton campaign learned of Podesta’s blunder almost immediately and must have suspected that the emails Assange was threatening to release were his. Moreover, on that date, a lot of the revelations contained therein would have been salient—and not in a good way.
Just six days before, with Clinton still 570 delegates short of the 2,382 needed to win the Democratic nomination, the Associated Press angered Bernie Sanders and his supporters by claiming that she’d already won. The New York Times, CNN, NBC News, USA Today, and The Washington Post all followed suit, declaring Sanders’ loss a fait accompli.
But it wasn’t.
The AP arrived at its numbers by polling unpledged superdelegates, who couldn’t vote until the convention and were free to change their minds or even to deceive the AP.
Sanders supporters had been angry about the role superdelegates played in the nominating process for months. Sanders himself complained about it just one week before Assange’s announcement and a day before the media began writing his campaign’s obituary:
My problem is that the process today has allowed Secretary Clinton to get the support of over 400 superdelegates before any other Democratic candidate was in the race.
The next day’s headlines prematurely declaring Clinton’s victory brought Sanders’ supporters long-simmering anger to a boil. His spokesman blasted the corporate media’s “rush to judgement”:
Secretary Clinton does not have and will not have the requisite number of pledged delegates to secure the nomination. She will be dependent on superdelegates who do not vote until July 25 and who can change their minds between now and then.
For the rest of the week, the big election story was whether Sanders would exit the race gracefully and encourage his followers to forgive, forget, and rally round Hillary Clinton. But just 12 hours after Assange’s announcement, Sanders emerged from a meeting with his top advisors, refusing to concede and reiterating his determination not to let the media gaslight his candidacy into a lost cause:
[W]e are going to take our campaign to the convention with the full understanding that we’re very good in arithmetic and that we know who has received the most votes up until now.
The Immensity of Podesta’s Blunder
Podesta’s blunder had the potential to damage Hillary Clinton’s already precarious reputation with voters regardless of their feelings about Bernie Sanders. In some of his pilfered emails, top Clinton advisors, including Podesta himself, insulted her abilities and her ethics, commented on her poor health, made disparaging remarks about Catholics, Muslims, blacks, and Latinos, and complained that Clinton wanted “unaware and compliant” voters.
Many of Podesta’s emails also contradict claims made in defense of the private email server Clinton used as Secretary of State. Others reveal that the FBI investigation into the matter was anything but unbiased. At a minimum, the emails prove the Clinton campaign knew from the beginning that she was breaking the law.
It’s easy to forget how serious an issue Clinton’s private server was on June 12, 2016, three weeks before FBI Director James Comey publicly exonerated her. A few weeks earlier, the State Department had sharply rebuked Clinton for violating department rules, generating unpleasant headlines like, “Hillary Clinton’s email problems just got much worse.”
A June 1 Morning Consult poll found that about half of voters thought her private email server was “illegal, unethical and a major problem,” with a quarter of Democrats agreeing. There’s little question that Assange’s threat would have made the poll disturbingly salient to Clinton and her top advisers.
But, given Sanders’ supporters anger and Clinton’s need for their enthusiastic support to prevail against Trump, her team would have been more concerned about emails revealing her disdain for Sanders’ supporters and some of their most beloved progressive policies.
For example, Clinton secretly opposed gay marriage and supported fracking. She and other top campaign officials regularly insulted Sanders and his supporters. Making matters worse, Podesta’s emails also revealed that CNN contributor Donna Brazile gave Clinton at least three questions in advance for her debates with Sanders. And an extraordinary number of emails confirm Sanders supporters’ suspicions that the DNC and the mainstream media were colluding with Clinton to torpedo his candidacy from its inception.
But perhaps the most troubling of Podesta’s emails would have been those containing passages from speeches Clinton gave to Goldman Sachs and other big money outfits at $225,000 a pop. In these speeches, Clinton downplayed Wall Street’s role in the 2008 recession and said big money bankers themselves are best equipped to write any necessary legislation.
Clinton in those speeches also conceded that her “economic fortunes” put her “obviously” out of touch with the struggles middle-class voters face. She further admitted that she has distinct public and private positions on political issues, and revealed that she secretly favors open borders.
Like the controversy over her private server, Clinton weathered this storm so well that it’s hard to remember how much her unreleased speeches alarmed Sanders’ supporters, to whom she was little more than a corporate shill. Sanders had been using Clinton’s speeches as a laugh line in his own stump speeches for months:
If you’re going to give a speech for $225,000 it’s gotta be really, don’t you think an extraordinarily brilliant speech, I mean why else would they pay that kind of money? . . . Must be a speech written in Shakespearean prose. So I think, if it is such a fantastic speech, the secretary should make it available to all of us.
To make matters worse, three weeks before Assange’s announcement, Clinton released a mandatory financial statement that brought her Wall Street speeches to the forefront of campaign news, yielding headlines like, “How corporate America bought Hillary Clinton for $21M” and “The massive scale of the Clintons’ speech-making industry.”
A few days later, reporters even annoyed President Obama at a G7 summit in Japan by asking him whether she ought to release her speeches. On June 1, just 11 days before Assange’s announcement, a Morning Consult poll had 64 percent of voters saying she should, including two-thirds of independents and almost half of Democrats.
Some readers have likely forgotten the many serious political headaches Hillary Clinton suffered in the week preceding Assange’s June 12 announcement and how desperately she needed to placate Sanders’ angry supporters. If you weren’t too distracted by the Russia narrative, however, you probably remember some of the above revelations from Podesta’s emails that would have made doing so impossible had Assange not given Clinton’s camp so much time to prepare.
By October 7, when Wikileaks finally began releasing Podesta’s emails, Democrats had been taught to tune them out by angrily reciting the mantras “Putin” and “Russia.” CNN told viewers it would be illegal for folks who didn’t work for CNN or some other CNN-approved corporation to so much as look at the emails. Trump couldn’t push Wikileaks because doing so immediately rebounded back at him, raising worries he might be “Putin’s puppet,” rather than reflecting poorly on Clinton.
Clinton Uses the Russia Narrative to Great Effect
Whether Adam Carter is right that the DNC hack was a ruse designed to deflect the damaging Podesta emails, there is no question Clinton and her surrogates were instantly prepared to use it for that purpose.
Within hours of Assange’s October 7 release, Podesta made a transparent attempt on Twitter to tie anything damaging in his emails to insidious Russian interference:
2. …I’m not happy about being hacked by the Russians in their quest to throw the election to Donald Trump.
— John Podesta (@johnpodesta) October 7, 2016
Clinton first publicly addressed Podesta’s emails 12 days later in her third debate with Trump:
But you are very clearly quoting from WikiLeaks. What is really important about WikiLeaks is that the Russian government has engaged in espionage against Americans. They have hacked American websites, American accounts of private people, of institutions. Then they have given that information to WikiLeaks for the purpose of putting it on the internet. This has come from the highest levels of the Russian government. Clearly from Putin himself in an effort, as 17 of our intelligence agencies have confirmed, to influence our election. So, I actually think the most important question of this evening, Chris, is finally, will Donald Trump admit and condemn that the Russians are doing this, and make it clear that he will not have the help of Putin in this election.
A more transparent attempt to tie “Wikileaks,” “espionage against Americans,” “Russian government,” and “Donald Trump” to any damaging disclosures that might surface from Podesta’s emails would be impossible.
So, by October 7 tainting Podesta’s emails with a Russian provenance was demonstrably the Clinton campaign’s go-to strategy. But a Washington Post story about the DNC hack published two days after June 12 Assange’s threat on June 12 shows the strategy was prepared much earlier.
CrowdStrike’s Remarkable Announcement and Guccifer 2.0’s Debut
The June 14 Washington Post article is the first time the DNC went public about the alleged Russian hack. It includes the detail that the hackers stole a file of Trump opposition research; which, though no ordinary readers could have known it at the time, would turn up months later when Wikileaks released Podesta’s emails.
Indeed, this detail is also the article’s big takeaway, as its mentioned in both the lead sentence and the headline: “Russian government hackers penetrated DNC, stole opposition research on Trump.”
The story extensively quotes CrowdStrike President Shawn Henry, who previously headed the FBI’s cybersecurity division, and Chief Technology Officer Dmitri Alperovitch; all information was provided voluntarily by CrowdStrike and the DNC. According to Alperovitch, they “decide[d] to go public with information about their incident and give us permission to share our knowledge.”
So, why did the DNC want the world to know on June 14 the embarrassing fact that the Russians had hacked their server and the content of one pilfered file?
Alperovitch says they wanted to “help protect even those who do not happen to be [CrowdStrike] customers.” But they must have had a more self-interested motive to justify again publicly connecting Hillary Clinton’s name to lost emails and unsecure servers while Comey’s investigation was still a very serious campaign issue.
Clinton’s team had to suspect Assange had Podesta’s emails and knew the Trump opposition-research file was among them. So announcing that the Russians had stolen the file two days after Assange’s threat is, in hindsight, either an incredible coincidence or the first step in a strategy to taint the damaging information in Podesta’s emails with Russian perfidy.
But CrowdStrike and the DNC weren’t the only ones calling attention to the stolen Trump opposition file. The very next day, a new actor appeared, calling himself “Guccifer 2.0,” and claiming to be the very hacker mentioned by Alperovitch in the Washington Post story.
We are now supposed to think that Guccifer 2.0 was a Russian spy passing documents he hacked from the DNC server to Wikileaks. In fact, this is the only evidence that Russia hacked the DNC besides CrowdStrike’s unverified examination of their server.
But if G2 really is a Russian spy, Russia ought to be pitied rather than sanctioned.
When he debuted taking credit for the hack mentioned in the previous day’s Post, G2 made no attempt to deny he was a Russian spy. Anyone reading his blog post who was also familiar with the Poststory would assume that he must be a Russian spy as it claims. Would a real Russian spy pretending to be something else connect himself to a report outing him as a Russian spy without denying it? Why would he connect himself to such a report at all?
And, would a Russian spy working with Wikileaks to discredit Hillary Clinton announce to the world that he’s working with Wikileaks? G2’s advertising that connection, not denying he’s a Russian spy, and using Russian emoticons had the completely predictable effect of tying Assange to Putin and thus discrediting any Wikileaks releases that might otherwise have harmed Clinton.
G2 denied being Russian only after it emerged that he left “Russian fingerprints” all over the documents he released. Odd enough by itself, given the “superb operational tradecraft,” attributed to him by Alperovitch.
But Carter and his intrepid virtual friends’ examination of the fingerprints revealed that, rather than accidentally leaving them, G2 went out of his way to plant them.
The first evidence of Russian involvement was found within hours of G2’s June 15 debut. Someone at Gawker looked at the metadata in the files he sent and discovered the name of the founder of the Soviet secret police written in the Russian alphabet! No real Russian spy would be so careless. And if we weren’t so desperate for sensational news, a Gawker reporter finding evidence connecting G2 with Russian intel mere hours after his debut by itself would have raised red flags about the Russia narrative.
G2 also chose to use a company based in Russia to cloak his IP address. Even then, there are plenty of email providers that would conceal the Russian IP. Yet G2, who Hillary Clinton suggested “clearly” took orders directly from KGB prodigy Vladimir Putin, somehow chose one that didn’t.
If G2 had simply done nothing, there would have been nothing connecting Wikileaks to Russia. Instead of doing nothing, he went out of his way to connect Wikileaks’ Clinton releases to Russian intelligence. Yet, somehow, we’re supposed to think he was out to hurt Clinton. And, despite claiming to be Clinton’s enemy, neither the Trump opposition file nor any of the other files he released with it contained anything damaging to her.
So a Russian spy intent on getting Trump elected released 230 pages of damaging information on Trump but nothing negative about Hillary Clinton?
Viewed in quick and haphazard slices, G2’s debut may look like a collaboration with Putin and Assange. But Russian spies trying to hide their identity don’t openly confess to crimes the Washington Post has attributed to Russian spies the day before.
Nor do they use Russian emoticons.
Nor do they reveal their connections to organizations secretly shilling for them.
Nor do they intentionally plant evidence of their identity.
And when Russian spies release 230 pages of negative information about Donald Trump, it’s Trump, and not his enemies, they are trying to harm.
When we widen our view, the suggestion that G2 is a Russian spy is revealed as a naked insult to the nation’s intelligence.
Where Did Guccifer 2.0 Get the Trump File?
Hindsight together with Carter and crew’s hard work shows that G2, rather than trying to harm Clinton, worked to manufacture a fake connection between Assange and Russian intel. This fake connection would later be used by Clinton to deflect the avalanche of damaging information in Podesta’s emails when Assange released them.
The Washington Post headline that the Russians hacked a Trump opposition document from the DNC set the stage. But the article made no mention of Assange or Wikileaks. So, considered alone, it had zero potential to discredit any damaging Wikileaks releases.
G2 forged the crucial link to Assange the next day; by taking credit for the hack and claiming to have turned over the spoils to Wikileaks. His release of the Trump opposition file, which would later turn up when Wikileaks finally released Podesta’s emails, would also then provide confirmation for his story about being the hacker; and, as a result, strengthen the links between Putin and Assange he was creating.
Absent G2 bringing Wikileaks into the picture, the Washington Post story would have informed voters of an embarrassing Russian DNC hack of some Trump opposition research, without any mitigating way to connect those Russians to Julian Assange, and thereby discrediting him.
So the information released to the Post serves no purpose and, indeed, would harm Clinton, unless CrowdStrike knew G2 would immediately enter the fray and shift attention away from Russian intel’s breach of the DNC server and towards speculation about Russian intel’s connection to Wikileaks.
But there’s another more conclusive reason to think that G2 had to be working with CrowdStrike and Hillary Clinton.
Remember, on June 15, Guccifer 2.0 emailed a Trump opposition file to Gawker and The Smoking Gunand posted it on his blog. But we now know, apart from the Russian fingerprints he planted, the very same Trump opposition file was among Podesta’s emails when Assange released them four months later.
So, how did G2 get ahold of a file from John Podesta’s emails? That’s what Adam Carter wants everyone to start asking.
Since G2 manifestly isn’t the implacable enemy of Hillary Clinton he pretended to be, it’s unlikely that he hacked the DNC server as claimed. And, Carter and other experts say, his claims aren’t technically credible, anyway.
Given how hard G2 worked to discredit Wikileaks, neither is it credible that he got the file through them.
Without the Trump file, G2 might have just been some unconnected third-party trolling Julian Assange. But the fact that G2 possessed a file from Podesta’s emails seems inexplicable, given everything else we now know, unless G2 is part of a CrowdStrike disinformation campaign to protect Hillary Clinton from the consequences of John Podesta’s blunder.
The foundations of both Robert Mueller’s investigation and the sanctions placed on Russia appear to have crumbled into dust.
Let’s hope our political class notices.