October 24

Election-Meddling Redux

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By ANDREW C. MCCARTHY, National Review | October 24, 2020 6:30 AM

Our adversaries have figured out that the best way to promote American discord is to give the left-wing media what it craves and watch our divisive politics do the rest.

It is not an attack on the American election. It is an influence operation aimed at the American media, using the $60 billion per annum American intelligence apparatus to pull it off.

And it’s working.

On Wednesday night, it was suddenly announced that U.S. security services would conduct a press conference to announce vital information. With millions of Americans already voting, with our official Election Day less than two weeks away, and with minds ever attuned to the specter of 2016 election shenanigans that the media-Democrat complex has never stopped litigating, there was an instant supposition that some new “attack on our democracy” was afoot.

Sure enough, out trotted the directors of national intelligence and the FBI, mien studiously grave, to proclaim . . . well . . . I’m not sure if we want to call it abject nonsense or agitation of exactly the kind hostile foreign intelligence services would take joy in hearing from U.S. spy chiefs — in which case, it really is 2016 all over again.

The director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe, somberly explained that those Iranian rascals, posing as (to quote the Wall Street Journal’s report) “the far-right group the Proud Boys,” have been poking at registered Democrats in election battleground states: “Intimidating” them with emails that contain — hope you’re sitting down for this — “false information”; warning them that the Proud Boys have captured “the entire voting infrastructure,” and that Democrats must “vote for Trump on Election Day or we will come after you.” And — try to contain your astonishment — the black hand of Moscow, and who knows what other sinister alien forces, are similarly up to no good.

“These are desperate acts by desperate adversaries,” Ratcliffe declaimed. FBI director Christopher Wray was even more stern: “We are not going to tolerate foreign interference in our elections, or any criminal activity that threatens the sanctity of your vote or undermines public confidence in the outcome of the election.”

Oh, good, because you had me worried there for a second . . .

So how did the Iranians and Russians get to the Democrats? Was there some super-sophisticated cyber operation? The security chiefs didn’t say . . . but it turns out that a great deal of voter information is public. Anybody can get it, and that is not exactly news to you — not if your cellphone, like mine, is buzzing multiple times a day with annoying campaign fundraising pitches (“Hey Andy, it’s Martha again . . . ” — I’m not only on a first-name basis with an Arizona senator I’ve never met, we’re evidently text pals, too).

So . . . have the mullahs’ jihadi hackers and Putin’s spies really bored their way into “the entire voting infrastructure”? I mean, can they swing the election by altering the ballots? (You know, the kind of nightmare President Obama used to remind everyone couldn’t happen because U.S. elections are so decentralized.)

No. This “attack,” instead, is all about false information.

In point of fact, what our intel agencies are whipping us into a frenzy over is but a drop in an ocean of information, much of it false, in which we constantly swim. It’s called living in a free society. Campaign operatives, partisan politicians, demagogues, and sundry charlatans are at liberty to express themselves. That’s how free speech works: People say their piece, including some who intentionally try to deceive us, and we figure out what’s true and what’s not based on which assertions hold up best in the ensuing clash.

Here’s some news for you. In 2018 President Trump gave authorization to U.S. intelligence agencies to step up our own cyber aggression against Iran, Russia, China, and North Korea. It green-lighted everything from disruptions of vital services such as electricity to influence operations that dump tranches of false information — and true but embarrassing information — making life difficult for these repressive regimes. By degree, the Trump directive enhances our provocative intelligence operations against our most challenging foes; it is not different in kind, though, from what transpired during the Obama years. Trump’s predecessor authorized a cyber-attack that destroyed centrifuges in the Iranian nuclear program — besides enthusiastically meddling in Russian elections, Israeli elections, and the Brexit referendum.

I related in Ball of Collusion that this is an old story, particularly the election-interference specialty. “We’ve been doing this kind of thing since the CIA was created in 1947,” recounted Loch K. Johnson, a scholar of U.S. intelligence history, in a 2018 New York Times interview. “We’ve used posters, pamphlets, mailers, banners — you name it. We’ve planted false information in foreign newspapers. We’ve used what the British call ‘King George’s cavalry’: Suitcases full of cash.”

This is what countries do to each other, based on whatever capabilities they have, in furtherance of their perceived self-interests.

Naturally, this includes not only interference but collusion: U.S. politicians leveraging even hostile foreign regimes for advantage against opposition U.S. politicians.

In the 1976 presidential campaign, Democratic eminence Averell Harriman signaled to the Soviet foreign ministry that Moscow would find Carter more agreeable to deal with than Ford. In 1980, Carter used billionaire industrialist Armand Hammer and national-security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski to seek Soviet accommodations that might help in the Democrats’ campaign against Reagan. A 1983 KGB memorandum exposed after the Soviet Union fell detailed how Democratic senators Ted Kennedy and John Tunney secretly consulted with Moscow on how to deal with Reagan and appeal to American audiences on such issues as nuclear disarmament.

No, Barack Obama was not the first to think he was off-mic while pleading with Russians to back off on campaign-season provocations on the promise of postelection “flexibility.”

Are the Iranians and Russians making messaging-mischief? I’d be stunned if they weren’t. They are rogue regimes, and they are hostile, so they’d be hardwired to do it in any event. But even if that were not the case, does anyone think they are just going to sit on their hands submissively while our intelligence services conduct operations against them?

Don’t get me wrong: I am not for a moment suggesting that our spies should stop. The annual taxpayer fortune allocated to underwrite our intel agencies is intended to keep the rogues on their heels. That’s exactly what we should be doing.

We have to understand, though, that there will be retaliation. It will be more a nuisance than a threat because these regimes are basket cases: The mullahs are holding on for dear life; the Kremlin has capable intelligence services, but it runs a fading thugocracy — it’s not your father’s Soviet Union.

If you want to think our democracy is in mortal danger from foreign interference, go ahead. Our adversaries would love for you to think they’re ten feet tall and omnipotent. The truth, however, is more disturbing: They are using us against us. They have figured out that the best way to promote American discord and dysfunction is to give the left-wing media what it craves and watch our divisive politics do the rest.

The media and Democrats want to portray Trump as an incorrigible racist, the populist hero of white supremacy who has the Proud Boy numbskulls “standing by” to launch civil war. The Trump intelligence services are anxious to show that the 2016 collusion narrative is a hoax and that, far from inviting foreign interference in our elections, the president is zealously combating it. Having been taken in by Russian disinformation in 2016, the FBI is keen to show that the bureau is on guard this time around.

No one knows this better than our foreign adversaries. They study us carefully, the better to undermine us. So they throw a little agitprop at Democrats, sourced to the Proud Boys. The media will dutifully use it as a peg to publish more stories about Trump race-baiting, destroying trust in the election system, and refusing to assure a peaceful transition of power. Our security services then do precisely what the Iranians and Russians had to hope they’d do: To convey the impression that they’ve got everything under control, they hold an emergency press conference that stokes the panicked notion that our election is under serious attack . . . because of patently ridiculous messaging that is about as persuasive as the 2016 image of Satan arm-wrestling Jesus while exclaiming “If I win Clinton wins!” (Helpfully, viewers were encouraged to press “Like” to help Jesus win.)

That is, our adversaries know that (a) the media-Democrat complex is poised to use any racially tinged election-meddling tale, no matter how frivolous, to fuel the narratives that are tearing the country apart; and (b) our government security services will never come out and say that foreign powers have learned how easy it is to exploit our media to do their heavy lifting — instead, our intel chiefs will beat their chests about facing down “election interference,” thereby alarming voters and exacerbating partisan strife.

In Tehran and Moscow, they must be laughing their heads off.


ANDREW C. MCCARTHY is a senior fellow at National Review Institute, an NR contributing editor, and author of BALL OF COLLUSION: THE PLOT TO RIG AN ELECTION AND DESTROY A PRESIDENCY. @andrewcmccarthy

Featured Image and Credit:
President Donald Trump talks to reporters at Reno-Tahoe International Airport in Reno, Nev., October 18, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Source: National Review
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