When Democratic National Committee (DNC) internal emails were exposed by whistleblower organization WikiLeaks in July, they generated a storm of controversy and showed unsavory practices being committed at the highest levels of the Democratic Party.
Accusations such as the selling of dinner invitations with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for $200,000 and a clear bias of the DNC toward Clinton and against her archrival in the primary elections, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
Scrambling Democratic leaders needed a scapegoat to blame for the leaks. Under mysterious circumstances, DNC staffer Seth Rich was shot in the back near his home in Washington, D.C. WikiLeaks later offered a reward for information about who killed Rich, leading many to suspect that Rich may have been a source for the leaks.
Later, further leaks were put online, and a hacker known as “Guccifer 2.0” claimed responsibility for them. Guccifer claimed to be a Romanian citizen, but opinions from some cyber-security firms claimed that “Guccifer” was actually a cover for Russian agents, who were effectively trying to meddle in the U.S. election.
President Obama’s Department of Homeland Security released a statement that said that Wikileaks was collaborating with the Russian government to destabilize the U.S.
The New York Times didn’t go that far, but it published an article entitled “How Russia Often Benefits When Julian Assange Reveals the West’s Secrets.” The article was co-written by Eric Schmitt, who has in the past been identified as a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) conduit for the paper.
The article rhetorically asks, “Has WikiLeaks become a laundering machine for compromising material gathered by the Russians. And more broadly, what precisely is the relationship between Mr. Assange and Mr. Putin’s Kremlin?” without definitively answering its own questions.
The New York Times’ editors have admitted that the paper works “in consultation with government officials” and censors information that “could harm the national interest.” Former New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller has stated, “We agree wholeheartedly that transparency is not an absolute good. Freedom of the press includes freedom not to publish, and that is a freedom we exercise with some regularity.”
Most computer experts — including famous leaker Edward Snowden — cast doubt on the theories that Wikileaks is collaborating with the Russian government and said there was no hard evidence to support that the Russian government was behind the hacking.
In the meantime, Wikileaks continued to release new, damaging information about the Clinton campaign, uploading personal emails from Clinton’s influential campaign Chairman John Podesta, many of which defamed minority and religious groups and cryptically referred to the death of former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia days before it occurred.
Wikileaks released a statement that said, “In this batch of documents…there are claims about metadata after someone completed a document to PDF conversion, the language of the computer that was used for that conversion had been Russian. It remains circumstantial evidence – some Russians were involved, or someone who wanted it to look like Russian was involved with these other media organizations. That is not the case for the materials that we have released.”
In the meantime, it didn’t help that Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he favored Donald Trump in the U.S. election. The Russian leader had previously called Trump “a talented person.”
Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov called Washington’s claims of election interference “yet another fit of nonsense,” saying “Tens of thousands of hackers [try to break into] President Putin’s website daily. Many of these attacks can be traced to the United States. Yet we do not blame the White House or [the CIA in] Langley every time.”
On August 31, Hillary Clinton gave a speech to veterans in Cinncinnati, Ohio, in which she said, “As President, I will make it clear that the United States will treat cyberattacks just like any other attack. We will be ready with serious political, economic, and military responses.”
It should be noted that Russia has been aiding its ally Syria militarily in that country’s ongoing civil war for the last several years, but since September of 2015, Russia has gotten much more directly involved in the war, stationing jets in the Middle Eastern nation and conducting bombing campaigns on rebel groups that have included ISIS and the al-Nusra Front, an offshoot of 9/11 terrorist organization al-Qaeda.
Some of those attacks have killed Syrian civilians. In fact, since the Syrian civil war began, more than 400,000 lives have been lost in Syria, and the United States has been sending weapons and other military aid to “moderate rebel groups” in the country (to use the words of the Obama administration) to fight the regime of Syrian leader Bashar Assad.
Unfortunately, many of these supposed “moderate” groups have been quite brutal, with one posting a video recently of a 10-year-old boy being beheaded. Military analysts say the connections between these so-called “moderates” and ISIS and al-Nusra are too porous to be able to differentiate between them.
GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump and others have said that for all intensive purposes, we are helping ISIS and that President Obama and Hillary Clinton “gave birth” to the group through this assistance.
Recently, on September 17, there was a case where the U.S. bombed a Syrian army position in Deir ez-Zor, in what the U.S. claimed was an accident. At least 80 Syrian soldiers were killed, and an hour later, the position was overrun by ISIS soldiers.
A food aid convoy was hit by a missile strike and more than 100 tons of food was prevented from reaching parts of the war-torn city of Aleppo; 12 truck drivers were also killed in the attack. The U.S. immediately blamed Russian airstrikes, but the Syrian government produced photos that some analysts believe showed markings of U.S. drone missile strikes. Russia denied responsibility for the attack.
These incidents and several others caused a cease-fire that had been negotiated by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov to be broken within days of its announcement. Since then, a war of words between the United States and Russia over Syria has escalated.
On September 28, State Department spokesman John Kirby issued a statement that “Russia will continue to send troops home in body bags, and will continue to lose resources, perhaps even aircraft.”
On October 4, Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley gave a speech in Washington, in which he threatened Russia, saying “I want to be clear to those who wish to do us harm. The United States military — despite all of our challenges, despite our [operational] tempo, despite everything we have been doing — we will stop you, and we will beat you harder than you have ever been beaten before.”
Many observers have called these actions warmongering, in concert with Clinton’s tough talk about a military response to the cyberattacks. For his part, Donald Trump has sought to play up attempts at negotiating with the Russians instead of provoking them, saying that the U.S. and Russia share a common interest in defeating ISIS and the al-Nusra Front.
Trump has hinted that if he were elected president, he might want to meet with Putin before taking office.
In the past, Trump has praised Putin as “a leader far more than our president [Obama] has been.” Trump observed that Putin enjoyed an 82 percent approval rating in his own country, which is far higher than President Obama’s in the U.S. Trump said that if elected, “I think I’ll be able to get along with [Putin].”
The Clinton campaign has been swift to denounce Trump’s remarks and amity toward the Russian president, calling them “naive” and “dangerous.” At the same time, the Clinton campaign has taken a scorched-earth approach to Wikileaks, which daily has taken to revealing new information about the Democrats.
Clinton campaign spokesman Glen Caplin said, “By dribbling these out every day, Wikileaks is proving they are nothing but a propaganda arm of the Kremlin with a political agenda doing Putin’s dirty work to help elect Donald Trump.”
Another Clinton spokesman, Brian Fallon, addressed Wikileaks on Twitter, saying “You are no media organization. You are a propaganda arm of the Russian government, running interference for their pet candidate, Trump.”
The Obama administration, via Vice President Joe Biden, announced that it would soon conduct a cyber “counterstrike” against Russia, without detailing its exact plans. “We’re sending a message,” said Biden on NBC’s Meet the Press. “We have the capacity to do it. [Putin] will know it. And it will be at the time of our choosing. And under the circumstances that have the greatest impact.”
Many observers believe that these attacks would be conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the CIA and would be aimed at embarrassing Vladimir Putin’s leadership. But their targets might not just be computers.
These days, computers have control over important pieces of national security infrastructure, such as power grids, nuclear plants, transportation systems and emergency controls. It’s very possible that even a “cyber attack,” if conducted to an intense degree, could be responsible for deaths.
“Alt Right” website Infowars has speculated that the Clinton campaign’s tying of the Russians to Trump could be extended further to target Americans supporting Trump. Infowars host Alex Jones believes that the U.S. government could actually stage a “false flag” cyber strike against America, accusing Russia of responding, in turn, to the NSA/CIA attack.
Jones believes that ultimately Trump supporters themselves could be accused of having Communist sympathies, and this could be an excuse to confiscate guns from them or even have them imprisoned.
While Jones is known for sometimes making extraordinary claims, the statements of the Clinton campaign and the actions of the government thus far have begun to make his theories less implausible.
In recent days, massive anti-Communist billboards have appeared in New York City’s Times Square. A group that calls itself the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation has purchased seven giant multistory billboards, some of which read “Today, 1 in 5 people live under Communism” and “Communism Kills.”
Whether this group has ties to Clinton or to the Obama administration is unknown. But given the events of recent weeks, this story appears to be continuing to unfold.