Monday, June 05, 2017

The Trump-Russia scandal keeps on coming

The Intercept's crew has been careful in applying journalistic skepticism to various aspects of the Trump-Russia scandal story. But they are reporting on it. And they have broken a new story today: Matthew Cole et al, Top-Secret NSA Report Details Russian Hacking Effort Days Before 2016 Election. Their report gives reason to think that there may have been some direct Russian hacker penetration into voting systems:

The report indicates that Russian hacking may have penetrated further into U.S. voting systems than was previously understood. It states unequivocally in its summary statement that it was Russian military intelligence, specifically the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU, that conducted the cyber attacks described in the document:

Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate actors … executed cyber espionage operations against a named U.S. company in August 2016, evidently to obtain information on elections-related software and hardware solutions. … The actors likely used data obtained from that operation to … launch a voter registration-themed spear-phishing campaign targeting U.S. local government organizations.
This NSA summary judgment is sharply at odds with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denial last week that Russia had interfered in foreign elections: “We never engaged in that on a state level, and have no intention of doing so.” Putin, who had previously issued blanket denials that any such Russian meddling occurred, for the first time floated the possibility that freelance Russian hackers with “patriotic leanings” may have been responsible. The NSA report, on the contrary, displays no doubt that the cyber assault was carried out by the GRU.

The NSA analysis does not draw conclusions about whether the interference had any effect on the election’s outcome and concedes that much remains unknown about the extent of the hackers’ accomplishments. However, the report raises the possibility that Russian hacking may have breached at least some elements of the voting system, with disconcertingly uncertain results.
Megyn Kelly has recently migrated from FOX News to NBC. And she had an interview with Vladimir Putin to feature on the debut of her new show on NBC Sundays, President Vladimir Putin On Russian Election Interference (Full Exclusive):

Alyona Minkovski gives a commentary on Megan Kelly's interview with Vladimir Putin that aired Sunday. Alyona knows a bit about Russian politics. She had a series on the now-infamous RT. I watched her RT show quite a bit, and it always seemed to me that she was careful in her treatment of the facts and judgment. Alyona's mother is a famous figure skater, Irina Rodnina, who serves in the Russian Duma (parliament) for Putin's United Russia party. Mom has on at least one occasion has caused a touch of professional embarrassment for Alyona. (Julia Ioffe, Russian Olympian Irina Rodnina Blames Racist Obama Tweet on a Hacker New Republic 02/10/2014)

Anyway, if you feel your mind will be corrupted by reading anything written by a Russian, then skip Alyona's article. But it's a worthwhile analysis, Megyn Kelly Had Freedom Russian Journalists Don’t, Yet Failed to Hold Vladimir Putin to Account Daily Banner 06/05/2017:

Tough luck for anyone who was hoping to feel satisfied after watching Megyn Kelly’s much anticipated interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The roughly 10 minute discussion was featured on the debut episode of NBC’s new program, Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly. While she is often heralded as a skilled and tough interviewer, Putin was able to employ his usual techniques of mocking and flipping questions to the point where no viewer could walk away believing they had a better grasp on the political issues at hand. ...

The Russian President also used the tried and true tactic of “whataboutism” or moral equivalence to side step Kelly's questions. While pointing to theories of JFK's assassination and election meddling by the US may draw eye-rolls here, the tactic works wonders with Russian audiences who reject what they view as American finger wagging. Giving it back to an American journalist will score Putin political points at home. ...

The most critical flaw in this one-on-one interview is that it was tailored for an American audience and it’s concerns. That approach isn’t surprising, after all NBC needs to play to both it’s viewers and the current news cycle, but it’s also why this television event was doomed from the start. The limited range of topics allowed the Russian President to ridicule and minimize the hyper focus on the US election and evade accountability for his government’s broader actions on a global scale.

As long as Putin and Russia are approached exclusively through an America-centric lense [sic], deflection and dismissal will be given in return. In order to really flip the script and make the interview a challenge, journalists need to think of how Russians would question their own leader, if it weren't so risky to do so. Kelly had the freedom so many Russian journalists do not, and wasted the opportunity. [my emphasis]
In case you're wondering, Alyona had this to say about the hacking allegations: "'I always support transparency, and I think if it was the Russian government that orchestrated hacking of the DNC servers . . . then the United States needs to figure out someway to have a response, right?' Minkovski said. 'To send the message that it’s not okay to just hack our elections, or hack foreign elections.'" (Carrie Sheffield, WATCH: Former RT anchor: Alleged Russian election hacks should come as no surprise Salon 05/07/2017)

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