Obama Calls for Investigation into Russian Hacking, Still No Evidence Made Public
Former FBI agent and whistleblower Coleen Rowley says accuracy in the report must be put above all else because the results could have grave consequences for foreign policy
SHARMINI PERIES: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. The White House announced on Friday that it is ordering an investigation to determine if the Russian government had any role in influencing the 2016 Presidential election. Various government intelligence officials have indicated that the Russian government was behind the hacking of email accounts of the Democratic National Committee and of Hillary Clinton’s campaign Chairperson John Podesta. However, so far, no report or evidence has been provided. Also, WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange who published the emails, has denied that any government agency was involved in providing the emails to WikiLeaks. According to Homeland Security Advisor Lisa Monaco, the report would be released before the inauguration of Donald Trump as President on January 20th, as the President has requested. Joining us to analyze the announcement is Coleen Rowley. Coleen is a former FBI Special Agent and Division Counsel. In 2002, she was named one of Time Magazine’s Persons of the Year for having exposed some of the FBI pre-9/11 failures. Thanks for joining us again, Coleen.
COLEEN ROWLEY: Thank you.
SHARMINI PERIES: So, Coleen, for a long time now there has been speculation that Russia was involved in trying to influence US Presidential elections. This has become more prominent since the actual election confirming Donald Trump’s victory. But why is the President and the White House taking this up now and not when the story actually broke over six months ago?
COLEEN ROWLEY: Well, that’s a good question but I think there are at least a couple of possible reasons. One is that Congress people themselves, especially Senator Lindsey Graham and Senator McCain are calling for Committee Hearings on this. So, there’s already this, you know, a lot of pressure from Congress and if the Administration is able to investigate, they will probably be able to have better control over the information getting out. There’s a lot of concern by the intelligence agencies that their methods and sources might be revealed. If the Administration conducts the investigation through the 16 intelligence agencies, they’ll be able to keep control of that a lot better than if it was in Congress. That’s one reason. The second reason is probably simply because the Obama Administration is coming to an end in a very short time, and there’s a belief that Trump will not be interested in investigating. So, there are two reasons there. You know, the question is will we find out anything more than what we already have heard and what we’ve heard, of course, is that — this was just in a letter from Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence and the Director of Homeland Security put out in a letter months ago — that they had highest confidence, these are very weasel words, highest confidence that the hacking of the Democratic emails, Podesta and the DNC emails, was consistent with methods and motivations. Okay? That’s all they’ve said so far and yet we’ve had this kind of hysteria take over that Russia is influencing the election.
The other thing that you alluded to that’s happened is that we’ve had this castigation of independent news sites, opinion and news sites, online alleging that 200 different websites are controlled by the Russians — which is absolutely a return of McCarthyism and it’s ludicrous on many accounts, partially because we know now that there are Macedonian teenagers who are launching all kinds of fake memes and things on social media. And even NBC had a news segment today that said 150 of the sites were Macedonian. There’s also some idea that perhaps there’s a tie to the Pentagon leaking some of this false information and/or Ukrainians. There could be any number of hackers and any number of people that are putting out information. So, I don’t think we know at all — we don’t have any clear evidence that it’s coming from the Russian leadership.
SHARMINI PERIES: How credible could an investigation of this sort be coming from the intelligence agencies? Because at this moment it’s sounding like a very partisan request on the part of the President?
COLEEN ROWLEY: Well, there are a couple problems. One is this kind of investigation would have to be done very quickly. And so, if they’re ordered to do something very quickly, it could be shoddy. That’s for starters. They only have a couple weeks because Obama wants it finished. There’s also the problem that two of these agencies — and actually the Director of National Intelligence is the Head of all 16 intelligence agencies, he’s the head of the whole intelligence community. He’s already got a vested interest in upholding what he’s already said. And so, we have that problem of politicization of intelligence where if you know what the boss wants, everybody then works. This is what happened with the Iraq weapons of mass destruction — NIE — National Intelligence report that they put out that said that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. When you know that the bosses want a certain objective — and Clapper’s already committed to himself, publicly, he’s said this. That he attributed it to the Russians. It should be mentioned that the agency’s claim that their methods of tracing could reveal their secret sources or methods. And so, this is why they claim they have to keep this secret. William Binney, who was a former high-level NSA official, you know, decryption expert, etcetera, he says that this is not secret. This technology of tracing where the hacking was coming from is really well-known. And something that, you know, commercial people could do. So, that’s another thing here — if they claim that it has to be so secret that they can’t tell the people how they know it’s the Russians and they continue to use these weasel words, the American public should be very skeptical of any findings that come out.
SHARMINI PERIES: When this was an issue, Coleen, during the campaign, Hillary Clinton several times alluded to the fact that there was a company that had investigated and came up with what she was alleging at the time, that the Russians were involved. Will this company be a part of the intelligence agencies’ effort in terms of developing this report? And then secondly, how would the FBI go about conducting such a report?
COLEEN ROWLEY: Well, the government does work with private companies. Obviously, there are private contractors all throughout government. I think it was CrowdStrike, if I remember right, which was the company — and they could work with them, or at the very least they could base their information on what CrowdStrike has already found. You know, so it’s hard to say but, you know, CrowdStrike was working for profit, just as all private companies do, and I think they were actually employed by the DNC, which is another source of potential bias here.
SHARMINI PERIES: You’ve been an insider, how does the government intelligence services go about doing a report of this sort with such speed?
COLEEN ROWLEY: The FBI has already… has an ongoing investigation of the Russian hacking. So, obviously, they’re ahead of the game. I mean, I don’t know what the other 14 or 15 agencies have done so far. But, obviously, the FBI has already been investigating this — which actually calls into question why Obama would ask for another investigation, when they’ve already been investigating. The other agencies will probably all do some groundwork, at least the portion that’s within their expertise, and then when they go to put it together into like a committee, what they typically do is they have a consensus. But then they also have a minority opinion.
And, again, this is all premised on the fact as if they’re doing this correctly — if they do have enough time to do a proper national intelligence estimate, and not actually rushed for time where they’re not coordinating well, etcetera. But the NSA, like I said, Bill Binney, former NSA, says that the NSA would already have this information. If they were able to track it, they would already have this information. And, again, we can wonder why, if they do have this, that it hasn’t been shared. If they’re so confident that they can claim that this is the work of the Russians, then why can’t they share the information?
In the past, when it’s this important — and by the way, this is again, very reminiscent of the Cold War. We shouldn’t be surprised at this kind of demonization and — you know, what the House Un-American Activities Committee did when they went after Pete Seeger, when they went after Einstein, and all of the Hollywood people were blacklisted — this shouldn’t surprise us right now because we’re in the midst of a new Cold War. This has been launched. Hillary Clinton fell into it by wanting to blame the Russian hacks for these things and it’s very important that this be accurate.
This investigation needs to be accurate. They need to put accuracy above everything else because, literally, we could have a war on the line here and the United States, if they find that you know there’s a foreign country hacking, they will retaliate aggressively which they’ve already promised to do. It’s very dangerous stuff and we have our domestic politics now wrapped in with foreign policy — and that’s not a good thing.
Today, just as a small example of how the domestic politics are wrapped in with foreign policy, we had Fox News, Tucker Carlson accusing… excuse me, vice versa. Democratic Representative Schiff, who has called for a committee to look into Russian interference with the election, was on Tucker Carlson Show on Fox. And Schiff called Tucker Carlson a Kremlin apologist. Now, this really smacks of McCarthyism. And again, maybe — let’s cross our fingers — maybe the National Intelligence Estimate can clarify these things. Maybe they can get to the bottom of it. But they do have to share more information with the American public.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Coleen, unless you have something more to add to this, we’ll wrap up for now. But we’ll pick it up next week.
COLEEN ROWLEY: Okay, sounds good.
SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.