US House Intelligence Committee Democrat’s interim report on Russian influence in US election

schfiffThe Democrats released their own counter-report to the Republican House Intelligence report on Trump and Russia. The Democrats charge their Republican peers “have engaged in a systematic effort to muddy the waters.”

Link here: The Democrats’ Intel Committee counter-report

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Republican House Intelligence Committee ‘Report on Russian Active Measures’

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Dated March 22, 2018 and released on April 27, 2018 to the condemnation of the Democrats. The Republicans acknowledge Russian influence in the 2016 presidental campaign but clear Donald Trump of collusion.

Link to report here: Republican House Intelligence Committee Report

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Disinfo’s challenge for democracy – in a single post

The Russian information war challenge to the West is visible in a single advertisement  from an organization called ‘USA Really. Wake Up Americans”.

The ad falsely claims that American citizens can’t “cannot receive objective and independent information about events occurring on the territory of America and throughout the world.”pooreng.JPG

“USA Really. Wake Up Americans” is run by Federal News Agency (FAN), a private-sector operation headed by an oligarch working on a contract basis with the Kremlin. It’s very “gig-economy” and modern. It’s also very doubtful FAN exists to provide citizens of Western democracies with the factual information they need for their government to function properly.

What interesting, though, is the job advertisement seeking English-speaking journalists.

“In May 2018, the information agency ‘USA Really, Wake Up Americans’ will start its operations, it will focus on promoting information and problems that are hushed up by major American publications.

“We invite English-speaking journalists and authors to work on the project – send your CVs to america@XXXX.XX with the subject “Wake up, America”.

This offer for work exposes the challenge for the West in the time when Russia is seeking information dominance over Western nations. Western democracy currently has scant philosophical or rhetorical defense for what it’s facing online. There is likely nothing that makes doing such work illegal. If there a way, given the many-to-many nature of the internet, along with its culture of anonymity, it would be almost impossible to enforce.

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The ad from FAN

If you don’t think the West is already on the back foot, consider how many “smart” people here accepted the Russian/Republican view of foreign election meddling after 2016: “The US has done it,” they said. “Everyone does it.” Pure whataboutism.

Then, in 2017 when Trump president lobs missiles at Syria’s chemical weapons labs, so many of these same people in the West bought the line that the West has no authority to meddle in the internal affairs of Syria.

Few batted an eye at this inconsistency – probably also for the fact that these same people have been overwhelmed by the flurry of misinformation around Trump. Today, Western public opinion is like clay in the hands of Russian-backed Western opinion-makers. The same opinion-makers extending their speech into our world.

And so we have this brazen advertisement…

How many journalists – or would-be journalists in this environment – would answer USA Really’s call? I fear a good few would. The rationale could come in many flavors: laid off journalists looking to maintain their skills; would-be journalists wanting a kind of legitimacy, (a tactic used by RT). Yet another, is to appeal to would-be journalists’ sense that they have been unfairly hard-done by the industry, or the economy, or “the system”.

What sense of loyalty, of geopolitical awareness, what firm understanding of the Big Picture would stop these journalists for collaborating with the Kremlin-linked disinfo house?

There is nothing in the ideology of free-market fundamentalism or globalization that provides an answer that would dissuade these journalists from accepting Russian money to become a tool of the Kremlin.

This is the fundamental weakness of the West at this time.

Worse, money may not be the major incentive. Simple ideological certainty, simplicity and the ability to make sense of the world may trump remuneration.  Just look at the sad cases of Andrew Anglin or Richard Spencer.

Decades of globalization have made no provision for the defense of the ideals of liberal democracy. Worse, there are more than a few strains of Western thinking that seems to embrace a ‘scrap it all’ mindset.

So what prevents a freelancer from the West from accepting money for work that ultimately tears apart the West?

Western ideas and institutions stand philosophically undefended and exposed on a network that connects right back the Kremlin – and to Beijing. The quality of philosophical debate in the defense of democracy has been degraded by the dominant neoliberal ideologies of the West, the  passage of time, the fading memory of the Cold War, and general ignorance made worse by underfunded public education, particularly in the US.

And so Westerners can be snookered by overly-broad and overly simplified applications of ideas like “free speech”. In fact, once, when FAN was deindexed by Google, Russian regulators cried ‘free speech’ and it was reinstated.

But fundamentally not all things are not equal. The defense of democracy from illiberal information war efforts as well as from populist ideologues is going to take a new understanding of the value of truthful information in a society.

That knowledge should be hardwired right into the ideas of journalism in a democracy.

It’s also going to require a reevaluation of the ideologies in the West that “look the other way” as fellow Western journalists serve as tools of corruption and disruption of our shared political system. These are going to be tough conversations.

If and when the West can articulate a vision (unfortunately, without White House input)  for a vital democracy online, one that can successfully answer the question why no democratic Westerners should participate in USA Really, we will be much better able to defend the conversation needed to keep our system functional in the new century.

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China points to internal divisions in West

It’s just one line in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs daily briefing – but it does seem to depart from the People’s Republic of China’s long-touted principle of non-intervention in other nations’ internal affairs.

In the course of criticizing the US, UK and France’s unilateral missile strikes targeting Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s chemical weapons program (for violating “the basic principle of prohibition of use of force in international law”) Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying added: “We have noted that there are also doubts and criticism in the US, the UK and France concerning the legality and legitimacy of such military strikes.”

This seems an ever-so-slight variation from statements in previous times when such cross-border commentary on other nation’s internal affairs wouldn’t happen. But delivered directly from the MFA, it can be seen as highlighting or amplifying internal division.

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MFA spokeswoman Hua Chunying

The MFA spokeswoman went on to echo the Russian position on Syria, drawing parallels to widely condemned 2003 US invasion of Iraq. She also repeated one of the Russia/Syrian position of – we don’t know all the facts (after years’ of footage of chemical attacks on civilians) so there is no legal basis to act. Hua Chunying said:

“…When it comes to the use of force against other countries on the ground of chemical weapons, we shall not forget the precedent of the Iraqi issue. That historical lesson should be learned, and such tragedy shall never be allowed to happen again. We noted that senior officials of those three countries you mentioned said that it is ‘highly likely’ that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons, or in other words, they are still ‘looking for the evidence’. We believe that it is very irresponsible to launch military strikes on a sovereign country on the ground of ‘presumption of guilt’. The issue of Syrian chemical weapons calls for truth.”

The Russians have used the same rationale both on the Syria chemical attack and in the aftermath of the Skripal poisoning. But compare China’s recent recent statement on the missile attack to its official statement after the US’s unilateral missile strikes on Syria in April 2017. (From April 7, 2017)

Q: Does China consider the missile strike on the Syrian airbase to be within the scope of international law? Or do you think it violates existing rules about intervention in other country’s sovereign territory?

A: The Chinese side has always stood for a political settlement of the Syrian issue. Under the current circumstances, we hope all parties can keep calm, exercise restraint and avoid escalating the tension.

The latest developments in Syria highlight once again the urgency of resolving the Syrian issue through political means. We call on all parties not to walk away from the process of political settlement.

It could very well be that these arguments are simply in the air and so China is repeating them. But given that China and Russia are opportunistic security partners when it comes to rolling back Western influence (just look at the Snowden saga), it could explain why Russian talking points are showing up at the Chinese foreign ministry press room.

Gone are the days of “we hope all parties can keep calm” (circa 2017) and now we’re entering period of highlighting divisions internal to the US, UK, and France – the same divisions, by the way, that China and Russia have the scope and power to amplify through their own networks active in the West.

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