a tale of two conspiracies, or why russian trolls ain’t nuthin’ to take lightly
This year. This goddamn year. Only in the year where the world has finally gone off the rails does a skeptic have to weigh two conspiracy theories, one of which might actually be real. On the one hand, we have the idea that a bunch of carelessly sent speech to text emails contain secret code words that give away a pedophile sex ring for the rich and powerful in DC, and if this isn’t enough, these e-mails also contain evidence that those abused kids are being ritually sacrificed, murdered, and possibly cannibalized. On the other, we have the CIA claiming that Russia blanketed America with propaganda and cherry-picked scandals to get Trump elected because he and his cronies would be highly favorable to advancing their geopolitical goals. And one of these conspiracies has more evidence behind it than the other, especially if we consider that Pizzagate is almost entirely based on anonymous posts on 4Chan and nudge-nudges and wink-winks from the pro-Russian WikiLeaks’ Twitter, while the other seems like a culmination of well-known frustrations with Russia by the CIA and FBI, overstated for the media’s benefit.
Now, I know what some of you are going to say, that this is the CIA’s angry payback for Trump saying that the largest spy network on the planet and all of the agencies it works with are of no use to him, and that considering his tweets, his primary source for intelligence briefings is Alex Jones’ InfoWars, which is too disturbing to joke about. A frequent retort on social media has been some variation of “our side won the election, shut up you sore whiny losers.” This is the political “doesn’t matter, had sex” excuse for shutting down any real debate, especially considering how the popular vote actually went down. It may have been in an alley behind a dumpster with someone unconscious, but consequences aside, they scored. And blunt denials don’t take away the actual, long known facts behind the CIA’s clandestine battle with Russian intelligence on the web, and the NSA’s Equation Group’s long-running competition with Putin’s hackers known as Fancy Bear, described in detail over the years by numerous military and op-sec blogs, foreign policy magazines, and occasionally profiled in major publications.
Before we go any further, let’s get some questions settled. There is no way that Russia literally hacked the election. The mechanics of rigging machines in thousands of precincts across America, all disconnected from each other and the web, all requiring different sets of hacks to compromise, with close to two thousand machines in a single key swing state, are absurdly difficult even for a nation state to pull off, especially when they were so closely and carefully watched in the wake of Trump’s rig-baiting. Likewise, it’s not that Russia wanted to secretly run the U.S. At best, it wanted to tip the scales to a candidate who’d effectively neutralize NATO as a concern for Putin and give it more latitude to reestablish its Soviet-era satellites in Eastern Europe. How aware of this Trump was, or how willing he was to go with it is irrelevant. If anything, Russia was borrowing from the CIA playbook in skewing elections in developing nations during the Cold War, so there’s precedent for this, we saw its digital version in which, true to Mark Twain’s observation, history is not repeating itself, but definitely rhyming as it goes.
What Russia is being accused of doing is hacking the DNC and the RNC at the same time, then only releasing the dirt on DNC through WikiLeaks and advertising them to blogs dealing with partisan outrage clickbait. There’s a bit of evidence out there to indicate that some of the document dumps were fake because they carried Russian metadata linked to Fancy Bear, and we’ve already covered the troll factory able to blast it across the web, so we could claim that Russia carried out a successful disinfo campaign. But did it? One of the infuriating takeaways from the DNC leaks were indications that there was collusion to stop Sanders from securing the nomination in secret so the entire primary process was in effect a Clinton coronation. RNC’s collusion to stop Trump’s nomination was not only public, but the lead story on virtually every media outlet in America. Barring evidence of a scandal that was swept under the rug at the RNC, we have no proof that Russia’s plans had anything more sinister to them than just dumping emails that made Clinton look bad and protecting Trump from embarrassment, but that also doesn’t work.
If there’s one thing Trump didn’t care about, it was a foreign power trying to sanitize his image. He mocked the disabled, spewed racism and sexism, very proudly talked about his international business entanglements, bragged how he could “grab ’em by the pussy” because he was famous, and got into a full blown fight with a Gold Star family. Every other day he’d commit an act that should have been political suicide to emerge unscathed. A Russian proverb states that one must have a conscience to be embarrassed, and lacking it let Trump literally overload the media with his scandals so any single horrible thing he did or said got drowned in the noise. Ultimately, enough voters just didn’t care, or even liked his awfulness enough to skew the Electoral vote in his favor to the tune of 100,000 voices. So the next question is whether that anti-Clinton blitz fueled by Russia helped sway just enough people to pull it off. Again, it’s hard to say because it’s been a legitimately rough year for the part of America that ended up being Trump country and attempting to point to any one thing that altered the outcome of the election is Monday morning quarterbacking, to follow a Russian saying with an American cliche.
At the same time, we do have a president-elect who praises Russia, who has no use for NATO, prefers to get his news from partisan conspiracy theorists, is disinterested in actually running the nation day to day, and whose current top pick for Secretary of State is literally a friend of Putin as well as a major contributor to global warming denialist groups. There’s also some history of Russia’s indirect financing of his overseas ventures, a totally unprecedented, at least in modern times, refusal to release his tax paperwork that blatantly screams of obfuscation, and his immediate anger at the CIA for suggesting a Russian hand in American politics rather than a measured nonsense vow to investigate that would be expected in this scenario. All of these pieces really want to add up to something, don’t they? Especially when Russia has been publicly funding Trump’s counterpart Marie LePen in France and neo-Nazis in Greece to play on internal political tensions in their target states. They’ve pulled the exact same tricks in Georgia with shenanigans in South Ossetia, and in Ukraine with the annexation of Crimea and “clandestine” support for Donetsk. Putting rural against urban in the U.S. also fits their now standard divide and conquer pattern of asymmetric warfare.
Yet, as with conspiratorial ideation in general, we may be seeing too much of a pattern where there isn’t a cohesive picture. Our media already does a great job of pitting rural and urban America against each other, and Trump raging at the CIA fits a pattern of him lashing out against anything that may minimize what he sees as his ultimate victory, which is the typical behavior of a textbook narcissist. Let’s not pretend that he’s playing chess when he’s actually playing tic tac toe. Rex Tillerson is an oil tycoon and any oil tycoon has to be friendly with Putin to get a share of that sweet Siberian crude and rights to the now opening Northwest Passage to ship it to America. Even the dismal picks Trump is making for his administration that seem like he’s very deliberately trying to undermine every government function could be easily explained by the fact that he blew up the Republican party and alienated all the experienced, moderate operatives who are open to compromise and had a healthy respect for the government’s basic institutions.
But still, Russia definitely has a strong relationship with WikiLeaks and long standing distaste for Clinton and Obama, everything we just covered about their malicious hand in Western politics has been public knowledge for any follower of international news, and there is the bizarre episode in which an intelligence briefing from the CIA on whether Russia is trying to mess with the election in September prompted threats from Mitch McConnell that he’d turn any attempt to launch any inquiries into this into a scandal. Today, his wife is nominated as the Secretary of Transportation. And we are still being denied a look at Trump’s taxes and told to trust him that there’s nothing the least bit shady in his checkered past connecting him to Russia, even though this sort of lack of disclosure and as much as a rumor of massive debts kills any chance for a top secret clearance as well as any military-related job for a regular Joe. No matter how skeptical we are, there are still some dark, dark things and bizarre doings, and certainly the CIA is alarmed by them.
Which brings me to what might sound like my own weird conspiracy theory that this furor about Russia is the CIA either acting on something they know but don’t want to disclose, or have a strong hunch about something and are using the fact that the election is over to demand a license to investigate in spite of partisan politics because as an intelligence agency, they can afford to think beyond election cycles. Ultimately, they may be trying to counteract all this newfound Russian influence in Western politics and stymie their social media trolls. After all, what politician would want to risk coming across as a stooge for the Kremlin today, after Americans won the first Cold War? Does McConnell really think he can get away with millions thinking he may have sold out to the Russians to keep his party in power and get his wife a cushy executive branch job? Do the Republicans really want to go down as the One Russia of America? This is what the CIA may be trying to hint to them.
Having been born in the Soviet Union, I can tell you firsthand they deserved to lose the Cold War, and that the lawlessness and blatant enrichment of its oligarchs led to a kleptocracy which Putin rules with an iron fist. Him trying to flex his geopolitical muscles to the detriment of American influence is not to be taken lightly, and if your position is that it doesn’t matter what he does or who he helps as long as your party somehow ends up in power, you have loudly and proudly proclaimed that you’re a partisan first and an American second. Geopolitics can be a really nasty game in which all nations compete with each other to defend their interests, and if our ability to do so could be compromised with Trump’s debts and whatever is hiding in the finances he’s refusing to release to anyone, and the business interests he says he will hand over to a blind trust but is actually giving to his kids, and the CIA is trying to raise a red flag about this, we owe it to ourselves to let them investigate. Yes it sounds asinine that the CIA may investigate a president-elect and how he ran, but this is the nucking futs world in which we live today…
Editor’s Note: Normally, rape analogies are not something which I’d use, and to come up with the elaboration, I ran the idea by my wife who rolled up her sleeves, said “hold my beer!” and Brock Turnered the shit out of it. The end result was just too savage not to use. Even though I started Weird Things when this kind of thing wasn’t what you’d put on a proper skeptical blog, considering this year, we didn’t simply lower the bar for everyone, we sold that yuge motherfucker for meth money to China, and leased the space where it was to Russian oligarchs. So screw it, savage it is.