Tag Archives: Russian Interference

Monitoring and Messaging: Russians Coming? They’re Already Here

Perhaps before we exchange “Hail to the Chief” with “Troika, from the Lt. Kije Suite,” it would be nice for the Oval Office oaf to consider giving his NSA the word to DO something about the current Russian interference problem:

While Rogers pushed back on the notion that the administration has done nothing to counter Russian interference, he acknowledged that the response so far—which has included sanctions passed by Congress—has been insufficient in deterring such behavior.  “They haven’t paid a price, at least, that has significantly changed their behavior,” Rogers said.

First, those sanctions passed by Congress on overwhelming (veto-proof) majorities, and signed into law (PL 115-44) last August 2nd, have not been implemented.  Not only have those sanctions not been enforced, the rationale borders on bizarre.

“So to recap, the head of America’s foreign intelligence agency (Pompeo) is suggesting Russia will attempt to do what it did in the 2016 election again in 2018 and that he hasn’t “seen a significant decrease in their activity.” But then the State Department announces that it doesn’t need to impose the sanctions that were meant to punish that behavior because the legislation is already serving as a deterrent?”  (January 30, 2018)

The administration’s insistence upon interpreting PL 115-44 as a “deterrent” rather than the punishment it was meant to be is reflected in Senator Dean Heller’s (R-NV) comments: “… the Administration announced that the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act is deterring malicious Russian behavior and new sanctions will not be imposed at this time.”  And, he’s happy with that.  To which we might ask: Deterring What?  Both the NSA and the CIA are telling us the Russians are happily carrying on without a significant change in their nefarious behavior.

But the Treasury Department issued a list of possible Russian citizens who might be targeted — yes, and by all accounts the list was simply a compilation from Forbes Magazine’s list of rich Ruskies.  A high school student with a tablet could have produced this! In a couple of minutes.  Somehow this doesn’t inspire a surfeit of confidence on my part.

But wait, there’s more —

The Russians are also pleased to be violating the sanctions against North Korea. Their actions could be directly approved by Moscow or the product of profit keen oil dealers, or both, but either way the Russians have been ignoring maritime sanctions on oil.  Surely the administration in D.C. would have something to say about this?

On Friday, the Trump administration issued a new set of sanctions that aimed to crack down on North Korea’s ability to profit from maritime activities. The new sanctions targeted one person, 27 companies and 28 vessels located or registered in countries such as China, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tanzania and Panama, among others. The sanctions did not target Russia. [Newsweek]

The “sanctions did not target Russia.”  It appears not only are we not imposing the sanctions enacted by Congress on Russia, we aren’t even imposing penalties on Russians for trading with North Korea.  However, at present Senator Heller seems content to “monitor” the situation.  At this juncture that could be tantamount to watching the bank robbers remove the safe deposit box contents in the hope they won’t take the loot out the door?

The administration’s various excuses for not only doing practically nothing about Russian interference, but doing even less to prevent further incursions, are becoming more tenuous by the day.   Those explanations make less sense than the constant barrage of tweets about witch hunts, and other aspersions cast at the investigation of any and all suggestions of Russian activities against the interests of the United States.  Each day passing offers both a challenge and a choice.

The challenge for Republicans in Congress is to maintain support for the White House without making the choice to be an enabler of extremely untoward conduct.

Senator Heller, and others of his party, are rapidly approaching the point at which their choice will serve to augment the attraction of their challengers.

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What Russians? GOP seeks to terminate Election Assistance Commission

February 10, 2017:  The House Administration Committee votes 6-3 (along party lines) to terminate the Election Assistance Commission, saying the body has “outlived its usefulness.”  [NCSL]

“The bill would also terminate the Technical Guidelines Development Committee (TGDC), which is the entity responsible for developing “voluntary voting systems guidelines.” According to Harper, the technical guidelines developed by the TDGC and adopted by the EAC are hardly ever used. Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) reminded the committee that the creation of the EAC and the TGDC was a bipartisan effort because of  shared concern after the 2000 election that our election systems and administration of elections needed to be reformed.”  [NCSL]

What the EAC does is to establish guidelines for electronic voting systems.  And, THIS is the commission the Republicans want to fold into the Federal Election Commission.  There is one more element of immediate importance:

“NCSL’s webpage, Voting System Standards, Testing and Certification, describes the standards set by each state. Some states adopt federal standards, some develop their own standards and others use a hybrid of both. NCSL research indicates 37 states use some aspect of federal guidelines in their own certification requirements, and another four refer to federal standards in some way.”

It seems very difficult to argue that the Commission has outlived its usefulness because no one is using its services when 37 states have used the guidelines in some form.

Given that the current occupant of the Oval Office appears to be the last man on planet Earth to agree that the Russians interfered in our election processes and institutions in 2016,  it seems altogether more nefarious that his political party is the one calling for the termination of the commission which sets standards for election integrity.   It’s all the more incomprehensible the GOP would advocate for the termination in light of the continual Republican refrain that the Russian interference didn’t change any election results.

The Republican members of the House Admin. Committee are Gregg Harper (R-MS), Rodney Davis (R-IL), Barbara Comstock (R-VA), Mark Walker (R-NC), Adrian Smith (R-NE), and Barry Loudermilk (R-GA).  The Democrats who voted against the termination of the Election Assistance Commission are Robert Brady (D-PA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), and Jamie Raskin (D-MD).

It might well be high time to contact our Representatives to indicate opposition to the Election Assistance Commission Termination Act (HR 834).   The one who might require more incentive to vote against this ill-considered bill is Nevada Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2):  775-686-5760; 775-777-7705 (Elko), and 202-225-6155.

 

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Watergate by Imbeciles

I have to admit, I wallowed in Watergate. What is happening with the administration at present is not Watergate. Watergate is the descriptive term for a scandal of mis-administration perpetrated with slick lawyering, nifty abuses of campaign finance accounting, and keeping all of it under wraps by the coordination of choreographed White House maneuvers…until it wasn’t.

The current mess is better characterized by blundering legal bluster, unethical campaign finance and possible quid pro quo donations made possible by dark and darker money, and spilling out all over the landscape in bits, pieces, and contradictory dueling press releases.  We’re in Act 5 Scene 5, Dunsinane Castle…

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,  Creeps in this petty pace from day to day

Unfortunately for the occupant of the Oval Office, the news is leaking out daily, and none of it particularly good.  Information about Watergate came to light in chunks, by contrast the travails of this administration is streaming out every twenty-four hours.  Almost by the hour in every twenty-four.  Minute by minute?  Granted that Nixon wasn’t further beleaguered by the copious maw of cable news, but the cover-up was indeed a cover-up until the tapes were released.  Nixon enjoyed more consistent popular support than the current administration until late Summer 1974.  Richard Nixon’s average poll rating during his second term was 34.4%, a figure brought down by a July-August 1974 rating of 24%. Again, in contrast, the current Oval Office occupant hasn’t broken the 50% rate since the inauguration, and now sits about 39%. [Gallup] Considering the daily dose of leaks, press releases, and other negative stories the administration is already at a point not “achieved” by the Nixon administration until rather late in the game.

To the last syllable of recorded time, And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way to dusty death.

In the present tense we’re looking at political death — the slow demise of benighted individuals who are seeking short term safety at the expense of long range security; and, if the airwaves are replete with Nixonian references now, think what historians will do with this later.

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

We have a President strutting and fretting upon his stage, and a rather poor player at that.  Further, he is playing a part the script for which is poorly written.  He cannot, or will not, separate himself and his administration from the tender embrace of Russian influence.

Scene 5a: It’s now common knowledge that during the transition period the incoming administration was open to rolling back the sanctions imposed by the Obama Administration, and to opening channels (one using Russian facilities) for more communication with the Putin regime. [Newsweek]  Trump was indeed open to returning the Russian compounds in New York and Maryland to please the Russian government. [WaPo] By mid-July 2017 the talks concerning the return of the compounds and the reassignment of some 35 Russian diplomats broke down. [LAT]

Scene 5b:  That back-channel communication proposal forwarded by Jared Kushner is also in the public domain, how convenient it would be to have an open communications connection between the administration and Putin via Russian controlled (and presumably monitored) facilities? [NYT]  Nothing is better designed to give the appearance of kow-towing to the Russian regime than to allow them to open communications with the administration in ways that would be obscured to US intelligence?  The trick to running a cover up is to keep things covered up — NOT to see them in print in the New York Times, Washington Post, Time, Newsweek, Bloomberg News,….

Scene 5c: Another trick to running a cover up is not to have your National Security Adviser resign less than a month after his appointment because his dealings with the Russians are not only coming to light, but are fully centered in the midst of media 1000 watt tungsten lighting.

Scene 5d: Surely no one will think the Oval Office occupant is fretting on stage about his Russian connections coming into that studio lighting if he fires Sally Yates? Fires Michael Flynn? US Attorney Preet Bharara? FBI Director James Comey? Forced out Dana Boente? Forced out Andrew McCabe? Asked Rod Rosenstein for “loyalty?” Discusses how he wants to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller? Fumes over the recusal  of  AG Jeff Sessions? Gee, what’s so inconspicuous about a herd of people heading to the exits?

Scene 5e:  And, what could be less conspicuous than getting right smack dab in the middle of a fight with one’s own Department of Justice over releasing what amounts to  a Republican press release emanating from the staff of Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA/Moscow Oblast)?

…it is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing

Pro-tip: When running a cover up operation it is extremely helpful to have competent legal advice.  There is nothing about the current defense of the Oval Office occupant that doesn’t reek of one of the oldest cliches in the legal lexicon: “If the facts aren’t on your side argue the law, if the law isn’t on your side argue the facts; and if both aren’t on your side pound the table,” added to the next oldest cliche, “If your client can’t provide a defense, put the prosecution on trial.”

There’s a reason four top law firms declined to offer their services to the Oval Office occupant — “He won’t pay and he won’t listen.” [L&C]  And so we are left with table pounding lawyers and spokespersons who are attempting to divert, distract, and demean (intelligence agencies, DoJ, FBI, etc.) by any means possible, and we will likely have them until the GOP has run out of gerrymandering, vote suppressing, and influence campaigns and voters elect a competent Congress.

In the mean time, it probably isn’t a good thing to demean Nixon’s hour upon the stage by comparing his almost lucid cover up operations with a scrambled inarticulate and self-contradictory melange of imbecility offered up by the current administration.

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Watching Circling Wagons and Flighty Chickens

The wagons are circling.  The panic thermometer is rising.  The GOP is behaving like panicked chickens with a fox in their midst.   House Republicans are trying to sabotage  any meaningful investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election in the Judiciary Committee  and by the House Intelligence Committee. [LAT]  Senators of the Republican persuasion are covering themselves in ignominy (and not just a little bit of hypocrisy) as Senators Grassley and Graham want to launch a criminal investigation into British intelligence officer Christopher Steele. [BI]

Meanwhile the Diversion, Distraction, and Delusion of the administration is on full display as the GOP/Trump haul out the long debunked “Cllinton foundation investigation” and the….wait for it….Clinton E-mails.   It can’t be too long before the Republicans start investigating Benghazi again.  In short, this is a very limited amount of ammunition being expended as the hordes (of investigators working for Special Counsel Mueller) press against the castle walls.

First, I’m noticing that there is nothing new on offer.  There is absolutely nothing new about investigating the Clinton Foundation, a charity with some of the highest ratings granted by those organization which track such things.  The charges were bogus to begin with, the “linkages” so tenuous that only great leaps of faith (and fevered conspiracy dreams) can make them whole, and the topic has been done to death.  The Emails?  They aren’t missing, they aren’t important, and they too have been overcooked in the fevered imagination of right wing Republicans.

Secondly, the attack on the former member of British intelligence is too obvious.  Let’s allow the participants to speak for themselves:

“Based on the information contained therein, we are respectfully referring Mr. Steele to you for investigation of potential violations of 18 U.S.C. § 1001, for statements the Committee has reason to believe Mr. Steele made regarding his distribution of information contained in the dossier.”

The criminal referral does not pertain to the veracity of the dossier’s claims and “is not intended to be an allegation of a crime,” a press release from the committee says. [BI]

Regarding his distribution of information…” we might interpret this to refer to statements Steele may or may not have made to members of the press?  Frankly, it isn’t clear.  And then there is that press release — “...is not intended to be an allegation of a crime…”   So, the Senators are not “alleging” any crime took place but they’d like the Department of Justice to investigate to see if there might be one?  Somewhere, anywhere,  anything. Please!  Further, what do we make of “The criminal referral does not pertain to the veracity of the dossier’s claims,” other than we (the GOP) don’t want to touch the substance of the assembled memos with a barge pole but we will gleefully attempt to sully the reputation of the person who shared the information with US law enforcement officials.

Aside from being gratuitous and almost silly, the “referral” on Mr. Steele sounds like GOP attempting to argue that instead of investigating the person who tried to burn your house down the authorities should be investigating possible criminal charges against the person who called the fire department.

There will be a steady drumbeat of GOP talking points,  most of which are as old as the lyrics to Mariah Carey’s rendition of Dream Lover, some of which are manufactured from the whole cloth by which the GOP would veil the antics of a failing, flailing, presidency.

Meanwhile, this nation is no closer to answering some truly crucial questions:

(1) By what means did the Russians attempt to interfere in US elections?  Are those means still being employed today?

(2) What steps should be taken by US election officials to protect our physical election systems and databases from interference in future elections?

(3) What assistance can and should be made available from the Federal government to state and local election officials so that future attempts to interfere are prevented?

 

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Watching the Bear Raid the Pantry: Trump Administration Invitation by Inaction

One of the most profoundly disturbing moments during testimony given by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to the House Judiciary Committee was his response to Rep. Brad Schneider:

“When the attorney general appeared before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) asked him about the department’s efforts to protect U.S. elections from foreign interference in the future. Sessions told the Senate Judiciary Committee last month that election security policies needed to be reviewed, but didn’t have any updates to offer on Tuesday.

“I have not followed through to see where we are on that and I will personally take action to do so,” Sessions said. “There are a lot of things that have been happening, and we’ve been working on a lot of great agenda items, but this one is important, and I acknowledge that, and I should be able to give you better information today than I am.”  [HuffPo]

Let’s review.  The Russians sought to break into at least 21 state election systems, and may have attempted to hack into as many as 39.  The Russians launched a social media influence campaign replete with bots, and posts, and promotions.   The Russians attacked the computer systems of the Democratic Party.  The Republican response to these three elements has been, and continues to be, completely unsatisfactory.

The White House reply has ranged from “it didn’t happen because Putin said it didn’t,” to a bizarre conspiracy theory in which it’s the Democrats who conspired with the Russians (to lose the election?), to “it may have happened but who can tell who did it.”   At the risk of redundancy, it’s not like there haven’t been security assessments published since last January refuting this nonsense.  However, too often we lose track of an essential piece of this state of denial:  The administration appears to believe that this  activity wasn’t serious because no one can prove that election results were changed in any way.  The is a goal post with serious policy ramifications.

This is almost tantamount to arguing that since the bear didn’t eat so much food during his raid on the pantry as to cause family members to starve,  then the raid wasn’t actually serious.

It offers an excuse for Attorney General Sessions’ inactivity.  After all if nothing serious happened, then why should the Department of Justice assign assets toward investigating the problem?   The second paragraph quoted above is perhaps the most disturbing.  If we take the Attorney General at his word that the Russian interference is “serious” then why has he nothing to report to the House Judiciary Committee?

Because other items were more important? “We’ve been working on a lot of great agenda items.”   And what might these be?  A Muslim immigration ban?  A ban on recruiting transgender individuals in the US military?  I wish the Representative, or other Representatives, had ask what “other great agenda items?” And, why are these are more important than attempts to interfere in US elections?

Back to the bear in the pantry — The bear’s pantry raid wasn’t all that important because we’ve been busy replacing the carpeting in the living room.   There was an addendum to Attorney General Sessions’ comments:

“He added that states needed to review their election vulnerabilities, and that the FBI and intelligence community could play a key role in stopping hacking. He said he did not dispute the conclusion of the intelligence community that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. There’s no evidence that any votes were changed by hackers.

Federal and state officials have faced significant obstacles in trying to coordinate their response to election hacking. The Department of Homeland Security waited until this September to notify 21 states that Russian hackers had targeted them last year. Election officials in two of those states ― California and Wisconsin ― then turned around and accused the department of giving them bad information.”

There he goes again — the actual election returns weren’t rendered bogus, then there’s nothing to see here.  Or, no one starved so the pantry raid wasn’t important — but wait, the FBI and intelligence community COULD  “play a key role in stopping hacking.”   Could?

The FBI and intelligence community COULD assist states — but they didn’t notify 21 states until THIS September, and then two of the states got inaccurate information.  Nothing says “this isn’t a priority” quite like delaying important warnings for months and then not checking to see if the warning contents were accurate.

After the bear ate his fill from the family pantry …”we’d like to inform you that you had a bear in your pantry last Summer, but it could have been raccoons, and although the door frame was damaged, they could have gotten in through that back door, or maybe it was the window.”

As of this November:

“Most states’ elections officials still don’t have the security clearances necessary to have a thorough discussion with federal officials about what’s known about Russian, or others’, efforts to hack into their systems.

Seven states still use all-electronic voting systems whose results cannot be verified because there is no paper trail.

And hundreds of US counties rely on outside contractors to maintain their registration records and update the software on voting machines. Some of those contractors are small operations with few employees and minimal computer security skills.”

In other words — the back door frame still hasn’t been repaired, there’s still a batch of open cartons of food in the pantry, and back fence can be easily scaled by all but the most geriatric ursine intruder.

The bear will be back.  And if he had fun in the pantry, imagine how much fulfilling fun he’ll have in the kitchen?

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ICYMI: In Case You Missed It, Instant Summer Reading Recommendations

The Nevada Independent has several excellent articles about the health insurance ‘reform’ battle in the state,  I’d recommend starting with ‘Senator Cortez-Masto’s denunciation of the Senate health bill,” and move on to ‘Dispatches from Washington.’

The Reno Gazette Journal reports (video) on Rep. Jacky Rosen’s (D-NV3) decision to run for Senator Dean Heller’s seat.

Please note TPM’s report from the conference of Secretaries of State concerning election data security.  If this conclusion doesn’t disturb us, it should:

“But both Republican and Democratic Secretaries of State, who are responsible for carrying out elections in many states, said they have been frustrated in recent months by a lack of information from federal intelligence officials on allegations of Russian meddling with the vote. They say that despite the best efforts by federal officials, it may be too late in to make substantive changes.”

Interestingly enough, vote suppression advocate Chris Kobach was a no-show at the meeting.  Perhaps this is because some election experts have identified major flaws in Kobach’s “election integrity” plans.

And, now we get to “muddle time” during which the current administration tries to muddy the waters about the  other election problem — Russian interference.  Spokespersons and advocates are on the air-waves saying that “Gee, it’s not 17 intelligence agencies, it’s actually just a handful of people who reached the conclusion that the Russians meddled,”  which is one tactic to discredit the reports that are unequivocal in their assessment that, yes, the Russians interfered.   Following this comes the Gee Whiz moment in which the apologist who says that “we’ve not actually seen the evidence of this.”  A statement such as this is simply a variation on the previous talking point:  We’ve investigated this enough, there’s nothing there, move along please.

Speaking of elections, please take a look at the bill introduced by Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV2) HR 2101, the Prior Approval Reform Act:  To amend the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 to expand the ability of trade associations to solicit contributions from the stockholders and executive or administrative personnel of their member corporations, and for other purposes.  The effective date, January 1, 2018, would allow more “corporate” money in politics just in time for 2018 campaign season.   The Associated General Contractors would be pleased to see this enacted. [pdf]  Those disturbed by the dark, and darker money, flowing into our campaigns should track this bill.

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