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Tag: russian meddling

Top DHS Official Delayed Crucial Report On Kremlin 2020 Election Meddling

Chad Wolf, former acting secretary of Homeland Security for the Trump Administration, delayed the dissemination of a crucial intelligence report on Russia’s intervention in the 2020 elections by demanding changes, creating the perception that the report was politicized, according to a new report by Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) watchdog.

In its redacted report — titled “DHS Actions Related to an I&A Intelligence Product Deviated from Standard Procedures” — the DHS Office of Inspector General underscored the department’s failure to follow “its internal processes and comply with applicable intelligence community policy standards and requirements when editing and disseminating an Office of Intelligence and Analysis [I&A] intelligence product regarding Russian interference in the 2020 US presidential election.”

At issue was Wolf’s unorthodox decision to interfere in the report, which raised “objectivity concerns,” according to the OIG report. The acting secretary’s politically-charged effort appeared to have been intended to aid then-President Trump’s bid for reelection, the OIG’s office inferred in the report.

"The acting secretary participated in the review process multiple times despite lacking any formal role in reviewing the product, resulting in the delay of its dissemination on at least one occasion," the DHS inspector general report stated. "The delays and deviation from I & A (the DHS’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis) standard process and requirements put [them] at risk of creating a perception of politicization."

“This resulted in a delay in the dissemination of an intelligence product intended to inform stakeholders about foreign influence efforts relating to the 2020 U.S. Presidential election,” the OIG report added.

This intelligence product was a report that analysts in the Cyber Mission Center (CYMC) of the DHS began drafting in April 2020 to warn officials at the local and state levels of a significant rise in covert and overt efforts by “Russian malign influence actors” to spread unsubstantiated claims about then-Candidate Joe Biden’s mental health after Super Tuesday, to erode voters’ confidence in the democratic candidate for president.

However, before the release of the Russian report, the former DHS analyst for intelligence and analysis, Brian Murphy, filed a whistleblower complaint alleging that Wolf, his predecessor Kirstjen Nielsen, and deputy secretary Ken Cuccinelli had interfered in the report.

Murphy alleged that, in May 2020, Wolf had asked him “to cease providing intelligence assessments on the threat of Russian interference in the United States, and instead start reporting on interference activities by China and Iran,” according to the Guardian.

The analyst — who, according to the OIG report, “believed foreign efforts questioning a candidate's health were worth exploring” — also said that Wolf had in July 2020 ordered him to delay the intelligence report because “it made the president look bad,” but Murphy refused to comply.

In his whistleblower complaint, Murphy said that obeying Wolf’s directives would have “put the country in substantial and specific danger."

"Russian disinformation was something [DHS leadership] didn't want to report on," Murphy told CBS News in October 2021. "It mattered. It had a material impact on life and safety of how the events unfolded during 2018 and forward," he added.

A representative for the DHS denied Murphy’s claims at the time.

I&A planned to circulate the intelligence report on July 9, 2020, but delays postponed its release until September 8. Even then, according to news media reporting, the I&A didn’t use its traditional channels to distribute the intelligence, delaying the report’s full publication yet again until October 15.

The OIG report found that, after months of delay, analysts included additional text in the intelligence report about efforts by China and Iran to amplify phantom narratives questioning then-President Trump’s mental capacity.

When pressed on its decision to include a “tone box” (the additional information) in the intelligence report, the DHS contradicted itself, reports CBS news.

"[The CYMNC Manager] told us it was a feature intended to draw a contrast between the actions of Russia and those of Iran and China, but also described the tone box as a 'blunting feature' meant to balance the product. When asked whether intelligence products require balancing, he said the addition of the tone box was not politicization, yet also said it showed I & A's political savviness, as the state and local customers of their products tended to be political," the OIG report said.

Wolf now leads a far-right, pro-Trump thinktank, America First Policy Institute. In a statement to NBC News, he said the DHS watchdog “did not find any credible evidence that I directed anyone to change the substance of the report because it ‘made President Trump look bad.’”

However, the Inspector General’s office disputed Wolf’s claim on page 11 of its report, saying, “Based on our interviews with relevant officials, as well as our document review, it is clear the acting secretary asked the acting USIA [under secretary for intelligence and analysis] to hold the product from its pending release.”

The watchdog added that Wolf and others named in its report had denied the claims.

The Journalists Who Parroted Barr’s Lies Owe An Apology

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

A "powerful boost."

That's how the New York Times in March 2019 famously described Attorney General William Barr's supposed exoneration of Trump following Barr's reading of Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. Refusing to release the sprawling report, Barr instead put out a thin, four-page press release where he brazenly lied about the Mueller 'reports contents, and claimed Trump was in the clear.

It was an audacious move by Barr, and it worked because the Beltway press eagerly played along, reporting that Trump's Russia worries were not only over, but that Mueller's unseen conclusions had given Trump's re-election a "powerful boost."

This week, Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the United States District Court in Washington confirmed Barr lied about the Mueller report:

From the Washington Post:

[Berman] blasted Barr's four-page letter to Congress in March 2019 that said the special counsel did not draw a conclusion as to whether Trump obstructed the investigation and that Barr's own opinion was that the evidence was insufficient to bring such a charge.
In reality, Mueller's report laid out evidence of obstruction but said the special counsel could not fairly make a charging decision, given department policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted.

Even in real time, the news coverage of the Mueller report and Barr's crooked summary of it stood out as one of the low points of the Trump presidency in terms of a systemic press failure. It was stupefying to watch grown men and women at elite news outlets treat Barr as a serious, honest person; to treat the story as truthful simply because it involved the U.S. Attorney General.

Three years into Trump's ransacking of democracy, and after three years of watching Republicans completely disregard the truth, journalists foolishly played along with the charade, running in front of cameras to announce Trump had been "exonerated," without having a read a single sentence of the Mueller report. Overnight, journalists collectively decided that a four-page summary—typed up by a partisan GOP official who had promised Trump he'd never been indicted —was the same thing as seeing the special counsel's findings. It was truly astonishing.

Now that a federal judge has confirmed that the press got played, badly, what's the media response going to be? Will there by any introspection, will editors and producers reflect on how and why they got taken for a ride on one of the most important news stories of 2019? Will there be any transparency with readers and an apology, along with an explanation for what went so terribly wrong in March, 2019?

The likely answer is no to all those questions, because when it comes to being honest and open about grave blunders the press made while covering Trump, there's no appetite for it, except when the criticism comes from conservatives screaming "liberal media bias." There was never any soul searching from the Beltway media for its colossal failure from the 2016 campaign, when it treated Hillary Clinton's emails as if they were Watergate + Iran Contra. Or the way the press conveniently obliterated policy coverage while Trump ran a policy-free campaign.

At the head of the apology line ought to be the Times, which sent an immediate message to the Beltway with its "powerful boost" proclamation, and announcing the Russia "cloud" had been "lifted" from the White House. Times columnist Farhad Manjoo wrote an entire piece that referred to the findings of the Mueller report, even though nobody at the newspaper had seen it. "Robert Mueller seems to have concluded after a definitive investigation, Mr. Trump's win was not the illegitimate product of a treasonous conspiracy," he wrote [Emphasis added].

He also mocked "the aggrieved and embarrassed #resistance-tweeting punditocracy" for "downplaying Mr. Mueller's findings," even though Manjoo had no idea what Mueller's "findings" were. Additionally, the paper matter-of-factly detailed, "The Mueller Report's Findings," as if those were verifiable things at the time. Reminder: No reporter had read the report at that time.

Of course, it wasn't just the Times that fell on its face treating Barr's obfuscation as fact. CNN's Chris Cillizza labeled it, "A credible and well investigated report that [Trump] nor his campaign colluded with the Russians," while NBC's Ken Dilanian announced it was a "total exoneration" of Trump.

Journalists who typically demand access to documents when evaluating investigations made sweeping conclusions based on the Barr press release. The "Mueller report is out," CBS News announced, even though nobody at CBS News had read it. Stonewalling Republicans refused to release the Russia investigation findings, but the Washington Post at the time insisted it was Democrats who lookrf bad because they "boxed themselves in" on the Russia story.

Rather than going with accurate headlines, such as "Trump's Attorney General Claims Mueller Has Cleared the President," newsrooms tossed context aside and embraced GOP-friendly proclamations: "Mueller Finds No Conspiracy" (Washington Post), "Mueller Finds No Trump-Russia Conspiracy" (New York Times)," Mueller Finds No Trump-Russia Conspiracy" (Politico), "Mueller Doesn't Find Trump Campaign Conspired with Russia" (Wall Street Journal), "Mueller Finds No Trump Collusion, Leaves Obstruction Open" (Associated Press).

None of those headlines were accurate, and they did extraordinary damage because they allowed the White House to proclaim victory. "This was an illegal takedown that failed," Trump bragged at the time. "It's complete exoneration. No collusion."

Beltway journalists failed in so many ways during the Trump years. It's time for them to acknowledge that.

Trump’s Intel Chiefs Hid Evidence Of Russian Meddling In 2020 Election

Reprinted with permission from DC Report

Lost in the news on the day of Trump's Insurrection was a devastating new watchdog report to Congress on the politicizing and distorting of intelligence during Donald Trump's time in office.

The analytic ombudsman, career intelligence community veteran Barry A. Zulauf, determined that under Trump national intelligence reports had become highly politicized. Important findings were suppressed to appease Trump's refusal to acknowledge Russian interference in American elections.

Zulauf's unclassified report paints a frightening picture of just how much the Trump administration skewed intelligence to suppress knowledge of interference by Russia in our 2020 elections.

From March 2020, in the critical months leading up to the elections, Zulauf "identified a long story arc of—at the very least—perceived politicization of intelligence."

Zulauf works in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), a Cabinet-level position created after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to oversee all U.S. intelligence operations. Zulauf's job within the ODNI was created by Congress to assist analysts throughout the intelligence community with complaints and concerns about politicization, biased reporting or lack of objectivity in intelligence analysis.

Zulauf determined that Trump's ODNI took "willful actions that… had the effect of politicizing intelligence, hindering objective analysis or injecting bias into the intelligence process."

While Zulauf tried to avoid specifically naming individuals responsible for much of the political heavy-handed rewriting, he repeatedly called out actions taken by two recent Trump appointees, neither who possessed any chops as intelligence experts.

One is a former acting director, Richard Grenell. He had been a Fox News commentator and Trump-appointed ambassador to Germany. He took over the ODNI in February 2020 then relinquished the post the following May.

The second was the Texas congressman Trump appointed to replace Grenell, John Ratcliffe. He is best known as a fervent defender of the ex-president in his first impeachment.

In one particularly egregious example, Zulauf wrote, Ratcliffe insisted on highlighting Chinese election interference while downplaying Russian efforts.

"Ratcliffe just disagreed with the established analytic line on China, insisting 'we are missing' China's influence in the US and that Chinese actions ARE intended to affect the election," Zulauf wrote. "Ultimately the DNI insisted on putting material on China in…. As a result, the final published [assessment], analysts felt, was an outrageous misrepresentation of their analysis."

The intelligence community has procedures to make sure assessments are based on sound judgment by seasoned analysts, not rogue points of view especially when they are not supported by facts.

The Senate Intelligence Committee requested the ombudsman review possible politicization of intelligence. Interestingly, Zulauf noted, he had his own review under way when the Senate Intelligence Committee request arrived. The ombudsman started his own investigation after he was approached by ombudsmen at three other agencies within the intelligence community. They acted because intelligence agency professionals and managers perceived problems and were getting internal complaints about the politicization of intelligence.

Helsinki Betrayal

The findings came 29 months after Trump declared in Helsinki, standing next to Vladimir Putin, that he trusted the Russian leader but not the American intelligence services.

By putting his trust in Putin, a former KGB colonel, saying that he took him at his word when he denied interfering in the 2016 presidential election, Trump reiterated his denunciations of American intelligence services.

Trump refused on most days to sit for his intelligence briefing, a closely guarded summary of worldwide threats to America and its allies. The report is prepared by experienced analysts based on reports from 17 American intelligence agencies, which feed material to Central Intelligence Agency for consideration.

The Presidential Daily Brief is tailored to each sitting president's style. Trump's brief was reduced to simplistic points, often illustrated with graphics. Russian actions against the United States were often left out or described obliquely to avoid provoking Trump.

Trump would have found even simplified daily briefings difficult to grasp given his ignorance about geopolitical affairs and history. For example, he once asked aides if Finland was part of Russia. He met with the Baltic presidents and confused their countries with the Balkans.

Mueller's Warning

While Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III was barred from investigating Trump's conduct as a counterintelligence matter, his office did look into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

On July 24, 2019, Mueller told the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees that Russia would continue interfering in our elections. "It was not a single attempt, [Russia's] doing it as we sit here," he testified. "And they expect to do it during the next campaign."

Yet eight months later, on March 10, 2020, in presenting the views of the intelligence community, William R. Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC), briefing members of Congress on election interference, said the opposite. He told lawmakers in a closed-door session for which summaries were released that there was no evidence that Russia had taken steps to help any candidate in the 2020 elections.

Analysts refer to talking points in these March statements, as well as subsequent statements in July, August and October 2020 as examples of "gross misrepresentation" of established intelligence community views.

The ombudsman's report attributed the rationale for these distortions and lies to the opposition they faced "getting their views on election interference across…in a confrontational environment."

But it did not assert that Trump directly ordered them. Several House managers noted during impeachment and Trump's better biographers have long noted that Trump gives direction the way mob bosses do to avoid culpability. Trump does not give a direct order, but expects people to interpret a wink and a nod or even just tone of voice.

Misleading Congress

The March assessment delivered to a House and Senate all-members meeting was brought by Evanina. Zulauf called this "the most egregious example" he uncovered of distorted intelligence.

When interviewed by the ombudsman, Evanina said he received his talking points from ODNI and National Intelligence Council (NIC) officials. He said that since they were directly from the ODNI and NIC he assumed the talking points represented the coordinated views of the intelligence community.

Zulauf said he could not find anyone at ODNI who wrote or contributed to the talking points Evanina used. The various individuals waved off the distortions on various excuses and reasons. Zulauf did not accuse them directly of lying and denying.

However, Zulauf said "red flags" were ignored. He took note of "widespread reluctance among intelligence professionals to deliver" assessments. "This reluctance on the part of seasoned IC [intelligence community] officers should have been a red flag but did not stop the statement from being issued."

Despite leadership's efforts to downplay any threat of Russian interference, the report was unequivocal on what U.S. intelligence analysts who specialized in Russia were seeing. It said, "Russia analysts assessed that there was clear and credible evidence of Russian election influence activities."

Analysts expressed frustration that political appointees were suppressing the actual intelligence because it was not well received at the Trump White House. The analysts told the ombudsman that their intelligence was being suppressed and politicized as the ODNI leaders cherry picked intelligence supporting a narrative that Trump wanted rather than presenting facts.

Mulvaney's Warning

The information contained in the report further supported a story in April 2019 by The New York Times about a warning by Mick Mulvaney, then-White House chief of staff. Mulvaney, it was reported, told Kirstjen Nielsen during her stint as head of the Department of Homeland Security not to speak with Trump about Russian attempts to interfere in future U.S. elections.

That revelation by journalists, now buttressed by Zulauf, illustrates how Trump's disregard for and suppression of intelligence assessments about Russian interference consistently made its way to the Cabinet and the highest levels of the intelligence community. It had a clear impact of how intelligence was written up and disseminated.

Zulauf wrote that in May 2020, the acting director of National Intelligence, Grenell, delayed the release of a memo for "politically motivated editing."

The changes "buried the lead," Zulauf wrote, regarding known election security threats. Analysts found intelligence community leadership consistently "watered down conclusions" and were "boosting the threat from China."

Overstating the threat from China also minimized, and distracted from, actual threats from Russia. Instead of speaking on Russia, leaders regularly pivoted instead to China.

In an interview on Oct. 6, 2020, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who heads the House Intelligence Committee, addressed similar statements by then Attorney General William P. Barr. Schiff is one of the "Gang of Eight," the bipartisan leaders in Congress who are regularly let in on the highest levels of intelligence. The attorney general had just asserted that China posed the greatest threat to U.S. elections based on intelligence he had seen.

Barr Called A Liar

"That's just a plain false statement by the attorney general, a flat-out false statement," Schiff said. "You can tell that Bill Barr is just flat-out lying to the American people, and it's tragic but it's as simple as that."

The United States spends hundreds of millions of dollars each day to monitor activities around the world, including efforts by China, Iran, Russia and other countries to probe government and business computer networks. The Russians are known to have the ability to open and close floodgates on American hydroelectric dams. That prompted us to quietly take actions against the Russian electric grids to make clear that any disruption of the dams would come with consequences.

Decades-Long Seduction

For decades, the Russians courted Trump, one of many prominent people around the globe sought by intelligence services as potential assets. A former KGB spy who had a cover working in Washington for the Russian government-controlled news agency TASS recently told The Guardian that Trump was cultivated as a Russian asset during 40 years.

When Trump became president, the Kremlin hit the biggest intelligence jackpot imaginable. The first known payoff came in May 2017, just weeks after Trump took his oath to defend America against foreign enemies.

Trump held an unannounced meeting in the Oval Office with the Russian foreign minister and the Russian ambassador. In that meeting Trump revealed the most sensitive intelligence material, known as sources and methods.

Disclosing sources and methods would naturally discourage friendly governments from sharing many of their own intelligence findings. Their spies and ways of uncovering information could be compromised, even ruined, with the potential that the spies would be assassinated by the Russian government.

We know this because the Russians announced what Trump had done. The same government-controlled TASS news agency released photos of a smiling Trump with the two grinning Russian officials taken by a Russian photographer who was let into the Oval.

The Russian officials, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, are, like Putin, trained spies.

President Joe Biden's announcement on Feb. 5 that he will not grant Trump the courtesy of intelligence briefings was summarized by Schiff as an important move to protect America's national security.

Schiff tweeted: "Donald Trump politicized and abused intelligence while he was in office. Donald Trump cannot be trusted with America's secrets. Not then, and certainly not now. Americans can sleep better at night knowing he will not receive classified briefings as an ex-president."

’Not A Hoax’: Mueller Rebuts Trump’s Big Lie About Russian Meddling

Trump says the Russian attacks are a ‘hoax,’ but America has been targeted and Republicans are ignoring the warnings.

Special counsel Robert Mueller testified to the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday that Russia’s attack on the American election in 2016 was “not a hoax,” a direct rebuke to Trump.

“Would you agree that it was not a hoax that the Russians were engaged in trying to impact our election?” Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) asked Mueller at the hearing.

“Absolutely, it was not a hoax,” Mueller replied. “The indictments that we returned against the Russians — two different ones — were substantial in their scope.”

Attempting to undercut the investigation and its revelations about him and his inner circle, Trump has repeatedly described the probe as a “hoax.”

“Russia, Russia, Russia! That’s all you heard at the beginning of this Witch Hunt Hoax,” Trump wrote in May. Later that month Trump declared the investigation was “The greatest Hoax in American History.”

“A Treasonous Hoax,” Trump claimed.

As far back as March of 2017, when he had only been in the presidency for two months, Trump whined, “Trump Russia story is a hoax.”

In fact, Trump has a habit of describing real things as a “hoax.” Before he began his multiyear complaints about the Russia investigation, he was attacking climate change as a “very expensive hoax.”

In addition to dismantling Trump’s mythmaking, Mueller’s testimony also highlighted the danger that Trump’s allies in the Republican Party are ignoring.

“We have underplayed to a certain extent that aspect of our investigation that has, and would have, long-term damage to the United States that we need to move quickly to address,” Mueller testified.

While Democrats have pushed for election security legislation citing the 2016 attack, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has led a resistance against that demand.

He and Republicans in the Senate have stopped the legislative process for these bills, which are designed to combat attacks like the ones Russia used to help Trump.

The approach has gone hand-in-hand with Trump’s acquiescence to Russia and Vladimir Putin. Trump even denigrated American intelligence agencies for investigating the election attack while he stood next to the autocratic Russian.

The attacks were not a hoax, and America’s guard is still not up. Trump has left America vulnerable to a foreign adversary, and his party is aiding and abetting him.

Published with permission of The American Independent.