Ritter on the magic 17


 I have not had a high opinion of Scott Ritter in the past but this looks like a thorough piece of work.  I have thought him someone whose experience as a UN inspector in Iraq was exaggerated into something grander.  Perhaps I was wrong.  pl


 "According to reporting from the Washington Post, sometime during this period, CIA Director John Brennan gained access to a sensitive intelligence report from a foreign intelligence service. This service claimed to have technically penetrated the inner circle of Russian leadership to the extent that it could give voice to the words of Russian President Vladimir Putin as he articulated Russia’s objectives regarding the 2016 U.S. Presidential election—to defeat Hillary Clinton and help elect Donald Trump, her Republican opponent. This intelligence was briefed to President Barack Obama and a handful of his closest advisors in early August, with strict instructions that it not be further disseminated.

The explosive nature of this intelligence report, both in terms of its sourcing and content, served to drive the investigation of Russian meddling in the American electoral process by the U.S. intelligence community. The problem, however, was that it wasn’t the U.S. intelligence community, per se, undertaking this investigation, but rather (according to the Washington Post) a task force composed of “several dozen analysts from the CIA, NSA and FBI,” hand-picked by the CIA director and set up at the CIA Headquarters who “functioned as a sealed compartment, its work hidden from the rest of the intelligence community.”

The result was a closed-circle of analysts who operated in complete isolation from the rest of the U.S. intelligence community. The premise of their work—that Vladimir Putin personally directed Russian meddling in the U.S. Presidential election to tip the balance in favor of Donald Trump—was never questioned in any meaningful fashion, despite its sourcing to a single intelligence report from a foreign service. President Obama ordered the U.S. intelligence community to undertake a comprehensive review of Russian electoral meddling. As a result, intelligence analysts began to reexamine old intelligence reports based upon the premise of Putin’s direct involvement, allowing a deeply disturbing picture to be created of a comprehensive Russian campaign to undermine the American electoral process.

These new reports were briefed to select members of Congress (the so-called “Gang of Eight,” comprising the heads of the intelligence oversight committees and their respective party leadership) on a regular basis starting in September 2016.  Almost immediately thereafter, Democratic members began clamoring for the president to call out Putin and Russia publicly on the issue of election meddling. These demands intensified after the November 2016 election, which saw Donald Trump defeat Hillary Clinton. Intelligence collected after the election, when viewed from the prism of the foregone conclusion that Putin and Russia had worked to get Trump elected, seemed to confirm the worst suspicions of the intelligence analysts and their Congressional customers (in particular, the Democrats). Calls to make public intelligence that showed Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election intensified until finally, on December 9, 2016, President Obama ordered the U.S. intelligence community to prepare a classified review of the matter."  Ritter 


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34 Responses to Ritter on the magic 17

  1. ex-PFC Chuck says:

    Given what the two candidates were saying and signalling to the electorate during the campaign, one promoting hyped up confrontation the other urging rapprochement, and considering the much increased risk of nuclear war of the former approach, it would have been irresponsible in his duties to Russian citizens for Putin to not attempt to influence the election in the direction of the latter.

  2. Fred says:

    “hand-picked by the CIA director and set up at the CIA Headquarters who “functioned as a sealed compartment, its work hidden from the rest of the intelligence community.”
    Were any of these people formerly in the Office of Special Plans?

  3. Virginia Slim says:

    It’s difficult to believe that a D/CIA (even one as full of himself as J.O.B.) would be foolish enough to make such a large bet on a single report. Day 1 of D&D is p(deception) increases as n(channels) decreases. It seems Brennan was so hot to take down Trump that his ordinarily irreproachable, infallible sense of direction failed him.

  4. turcopolier says:

    Virginia Slim
    I knew Brennan when he was a junior jackass working for Alan Feiers. IMO, he has always been filled with hatred, rage and murderous animosity. pl

  5. ronmac says:

    good point

  6. MRW says:

    And obviously self-aggrandizement.

  7. Peter AU says:

    How many Peters/Boot types infest the upper levels of the US intelligence establishment?
    I guess it would be simple matter to put together a small task force of Dr Strangelove extras to achieve the desired result re Russian “meddling”.

  8. turcopolier says:

    Peter AY
    IMO that is true and it results from systematic career punishment of the gifted. pl

  9. FourthAndLong says:

    Been my impression simply by looking at him.

  10. @ luxetveritas
    Amen to that. Ritter has long spoken truth to power, to the detriment of his career. From Iraq WMD to his recent buttressing of Sy Hersh’s claim that the Syrian “sarin attacks” were bogus, Ritter has earned the bitter enmity of the borg.

  11. FourthAndLong says:

    I never agreed with much of anything Max Boot had to say in his columns, but the Fox interview was a revelation. He is evidently very seriously impaired in some fundamental way. Very troubling such an individual advises anyone on anything, much less US foreign policy.
    Ritter’s piece is impressive. Before reading through it I wracked my brains for the most likely suspect for the “sensitive foreign source”, assuming for the sake of argument the whole thing was not a fabrication. I settled on Estonia and / or the U.K. Pleased to see other eminences at least partially agreed.

  12. Anna says:

    “Boot was born in Moscow. His parents, both Russian Jews, later emigrated from the Soviet Union to Los Angeles, where he was raised.”
    Whether Alperovitch of CrowdStrike fame or the insane Max Boot at CFR, these Russian-born Jews grew into rabid Russophobes devoid of any sense of measure. Someone should remind them the names of Genrikh Yagoda (founder of KGB) and Lazar Moiseyevic Kaganovich (the butcher of Ukraine). The tragedy of the 20-th century Russia was “arranged” to a large extend by a group of powerful Jews.

  13. I seriously doubt there are more than a few dozen experienced analysts in the CIA,NSA and FBI to do this kind of analysis crossing the fields of Russian cyber operations and information operations. DIA had maybe three or four when I was there. A lot of these people are sucked up by the private cyber intelligence firms like FireEye. Their resources dwarf anything DIA had. It would be interesting to know whether this hand picked task force was picked for being red or expert.

  14. Keith Harbaugh says:

    I’m somewhat of a fan of music,
    but sometimes there is an overlap of that with, oddly enough, say,
    the political situation in Russia.
    Would the experts on Russia who read this blog
    care to comment on how authentic (similar to the post-1980, say, reality),
    in terms of physical setting and Duma-like action,
    is the scene in the following video?
    (That URL is tagged to start at 1:49:36.
    If it doesn’t start there automatically, you can start it there yourself.)
    BTW, the conductor both supports the current regime and has received an award from it: https://youtu.be/4VhEt8y34ik?t=1m .
    But my main question is on the authenticity of the setting of the scene.
    And also BTW, don’t those horns (as well as the whole orchestra and vocal performance) sound great!

  15. turcopolier says:

    Ah, but your comment is concerned with actual personnel resources to do cyber-detective work as opposed to a cabal of hyper-ambitious schemers. pl

  16. pl,
    That’s why I wondered if the analyst task force was red or expert. This must be known within the fairly small community of competent cyber intelligence analysts. This is a very different skill set than the pure code forensic analysts. The answer to that question is key to determining if this is a witch hunt or not.

  17. Peter AU says:

    ex-PFC Chuck
    Digging dirt on one candidate – attempting to advance one candidate – a candidate colluding with and working in the interests of a foreign power?
    The narrative of the Russian leadership at present is no regime change. They have been walking the talk to instil confidence and draw countries away from the hedgemon. If they were caught trying to install a candidate, Russia’s cred’s would be destroyed.
    For this reason I doubt Russia actively worked to install Trump.
    On the other hand, exposing the dirt on one candidate who was a danger to RF would bring little backlash amongst those who RF are trying to impress.
    Then looking at who would want to bring Clinton down…. the list would be never ending.

  18. Confusedponderer says:

    you made me curious when you wrote: “bring red or expert” wonders me – what does ‘red’ stand for? I don’t know what you mean.
    I know an admittedly silly) comic wäre ‘red’ stood for Retired and Extremely Dangerous’. Can you explain please?

  19. b says:

    Ritter writes:
    “According to reporting from the Washington Post, sometime during this period, CIA Director John Brennan gained access to a sensitive intelligence report from a foreign intelligence service. ”
    The “sensitive intelligence report from a foreign intelligence service” is the Steele dossier. A paid-for rumor and fantasy collection of a (former?) MI-6 man and Russia hater designed to hurt Trump and Russia.
    The Steele thingy is the only document that fits the WaPo description.
    This also explains why Obama did nothing after Clapper peddled that nonsense to him. If he had taken it serious as proof of Russian intervention in the U.S. election he would likely have done something. But this was too vague and too obviously made up to deserve more attention.

  20. Confusedponderer,
    This phrase encapsulated a debate within Mao’s Cultural Revolution which pitted ideological purity (red) against scientifically objective expertise (expert). The ideal was red and expert, but it seldom worked out that way in practice. I’ve seen this phrase also applied to situations in the Soviet Union. It’s a variation on Colonel Lang’s idea of Artists versus Bureaucrats.”
    In this case I was referring to the possibility of using politically driven analysts with no real expertise in the subject rather than the core group of IC analysts who have dealt with the subject for years and have developed true subject matter expertise. Was it a group of ideologues like Cheney’s OSP or a gathering of the known IC experts in Russian cyber and info ops?

  21. Sam Peralta says:

    That’s why I wondered if the analyst task force was red or expert….The answer to that question is key to determining if this is a witch hunt or not.
    Will we ever get that answer? Or will it remain in the hall of mirrors?

  22. Keith Harbaugh,
    I have no claim to be an expert on Russia – don’t know the language, never lived there. And I can’t comment on the authenticity of the settings in Valery Gergiev’s modern-day version of Boris ‘Godunov.’
    His own history may, however, illuminate both his attitude to Putin and his performance of the opera.
    The great contemporary Russian conductor is not actually an ethnic Russian at all, but an Ossete – as also is his wife. So he is very much a man of what one might call the ‘borderlands.’
    This became vividly apparent at the 2008 Georgian War, following which he emerged in the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, which had been heavily attacked by the Georgians, with his Mariinsky Orchestra.
    They played first Tchaikovsky’s ‘Pathetique’ Symphony, and then Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony, the ‘Leningrad’, with the city hall as an illuminated backdrop in the gathering gloom.
    As I noted in a post here in October 2015, there seemed a rather clear allusion to the performance that was given in what is now again St Petersburg on 9 August 1942, the day when Hitler had intended he would celebrate the fall of the city.
    (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gKqSTPNCsMM ; http://turcopolier.typepad.com/sic_semper_tyrannis/2015/10/a-few-observations-by-david-habakkuk.html .)
    As to the transposition of ‘Boris Godunov’ to the modern day.
    The term ‘semibankirshchina’, coined to describe the period in the ‘Nineties when in the aftermath of Western-sponsored ‘shock therapy’ Russia was effectively ruled by seven ‘oligarchs’, comes from ‘semiboyarshchina’, the term used to describe an episode in the ‘Time of Troubles’.
    After the death of Boris Godunov in 1605, the boyar Shuisky, whose intrigues are central to the opera, became Tsar, but was deposed by the ‘seven boyars’ in 1610. The time of anarchy and disorder ended with the election of Michael Romanov as Tsar in 1613.
    An early act of the new Tsar was to institute a ‘Day of Moscow’s Liberation from Polish Invaders’, which was celebrated on 4 November through until 1917, when it was replaced by a celebration of the October Revolution. This was got rid of, and the earlier holiday reinstated as ‘National Unity Day’, by Putin in 2005.
    So ‘Boris Godunov’ may very well look, to Putin, like a ‘tract for the times.’ If Russians indulge their propensity for internecine strife, the Poles and Lithuanians, or whoever their modern analogues are, will come and get them. And – as Gergiev’s case makes clear – this message may have particularly resonance for those ethnic groups in the ‘borderlands’ who, traditionally, have looked to Russia as their protector.
    These days, those groups in the ‘borderlands’ who have commonly been associated with Russia’s enemies – be they Polish or Lithuanian nationalists, or indeed Georgian or Galician nationalists – have the massive power of the United States behind them.
    So Gergiev saw his own ethnic group come within a ‘hair’s breath’ of having half of its traditional territory reincorporated by Georgian nationalists determined to impose their own version of identity on it. It is no wonder he played the symphony which symbolised the will-to-resist of ‘Leningrad’ against the Germans with very visible conviction.
    Meanwhile, precisely Putin’s conception of ‘national unity’ is ultimately neither ethnic, nor simply religious, but cultural, he may well see Gergiev as invaluable. The Ossete has revived the Mariinsky – in Putin’s native city, from which so much modern Russian culture comes – as a great centre of opera and of concert-giving, and ‘show-cased’ the great works of the Russian musical tradition. (A performance he conducted of ‘Khovanshchina’, Mussorgsky other operatic masterpiece, is traditional in style, but also first-rate.)
    The theme of reconciliation is central to ‘Putinism’. In 2003, at his request, he had met with members of the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in New York, and been presented with an icon of Saint Elizabeth.
    He talks about her life and death in the interviews with Oliver Stone, and how, in bringing the icon back to the Kremlin where she had once lived, he felt he was bringing her home. What he does not mention is that she was actually the maternal great-aunt of Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II.
    Why she was canonised – and was also such a powerful symbol of repentance and reconciliation – is evident from here Wikipedia entry. It also describes the particularly gruesome way in which the Cheka murdered – the name of the ‘Chekist’ in charge of the operation was, apparently, Pyotr Startsev.
    (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Princess_Elisabeth_of_Hesse_and_by_Rhine_(1864–1918)
    This is useful background, when one comes across the claims about the DNC leaks by the former GCHQ employee Matt Tait. According to these, the presence of the name and patronymic of the founder of the man who would have been Startsev’s ultimate boss in the ‘metadata’ of the disclosures by ‘Guccifer 2.0’ proves that he was a GRU front.
    This is really is ironic, given that, as his Wikipedia entry makes clear, Dzerzhinsky’s ‘aristocratic family belonged to the former Polish-Lithuanian szlachta (nobility), of the Sulima coat of arms.’ Ironically, the manor house where he was born was destroyed, and family members, including Dzerzhinsky’s brother Kazimierz, were killed by the Germans, because of their support for the Polish Home Army.
    (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felix_Dzerzhinsky .)
    The claims by Tait have to me a very ‘fishy smell’ indeed – they look like part of the kind of rather crude ‘information operation’ we have come to associate with MI6.

  23. shepherd says:

    Col Lang,
    I concur with TTG. I have many direct clients in cyber security, mostly on the industry side. The number of people who have the skills, connections, and knowhow to uncover the source of a skilled cyberattack is quite small. So much so, that there’s a prevailing belief that you can’t do so. This is wrong. There is a small community, composed mostly of ex-FBI and their trainees, at places like Mandiant, Crowdstrike, and ThreatConnect, who do this stuff. I’ve had some interaction with them.
    Ritter’s critique is not substantive. It describes a process and then draws a parallel to a process that was similar in form. But things can take the same form for different reasons. In one case, it can be a choice made out of convenience or malice, in the other of necessity. In the case of the Iraqi WMD intelligence failure, there were many who could have been called in to perform the analysis on the WMD. Many people in that community at the time questioned that analysis, often loudly. With this stuff, there’s only a small community of people who can do this, only a small fraction of which would been available.
    So TTG’s question is a good one. It’s also, I want to emphasize, a question. That question can have different answers, and I certainly don’t know the answer.

  24. confusedponderer says:

    thanks for the explanation.
    PS: What I like to add about the comic RED – honestly, the comic isn’t as good as the entertaining movie RED made of it (with Bruce Willis, Paul Malkovich and Melen Mirren), but, so to speak, it’s ‘better drawn’. The comic is nice to read, rather well drawn, but too short, and it, well, has more action than sense.

  25. Sam Peralta says:

    Ritter’s critique is not substantive.
    His critique is about process or lack thereof of intelligence analysis which is very substantive. His main point being, that instead of ordering a NIE, and having the IC dig into it and prepare a considered analysis & judgment, as would or should have been done on any important national security & intelligence matter, John Brennan usurped that role and created a team that he chose and directed. Was this team similar to Cheney/Rumsfeld’s OSP? Can we trust Brennan? That is a serious critique IMO, which TTG reinforces with his question of “red or expert”?
    My question to you, if this is as serious a charge as Brennan, Clapper, Obama, et al make it out to be, why wasn’t a NIE ordered?

  26. b,
    You’re wrong about the Steele dossier being the sensitive foreign intelligence. Even Ritter says differently.
    “CIA Director John Brennan gained access to a sensitive intelligence report from a foreign intelligence service. This service claimed to have technically penetrated the inner circle of Russian leadership to the extent that it could give voice to the words of Russian President Vladimir Putin as he articulated Russia’s objectives regarding the 2016 U.S. Presidential election—to defeat Hillary Clinton and help elect Donald Trump”
    The Steele dossier was floating around in the open among journalists before the election. McCain later obtained a copy and passed it directly to Comey. It doesn’t come close to a technical penetration of Putin’s inner circle. Do you truly think Brennan would treat that dossier with the sensitivity as outlined in the WaPo article?

  27. Sam Peralta,
    I don’t think the full extent of the Russian info op is understood to the degree necessary to produce a good NIE. Nor am I sure such an NIE would be declassified, although I think this is too important not to be made available to all. The closest thing to an NIE mentioning the Russian IO is the May 2017 Worldwide Threat Assessment of the USIC. Daniel Coates presented this to the SSCI stating it was a consensus assessment of the entire IC. It has this to say about the Russian cyber threat.
    “Russia is a full-scope cyber actor that will remain a major threat to US Government, military, diplomatic, commercial, and critical infrastructure. Moscow has a highly advanced offensive cyber program, and in recent years, the Kremlin has assumed a more aggressive cyber posture. This aggressiveness was evident in Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 US election, and we assess that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized the 2016 US election-focused data thefts and disclosures, based on the scope and sensitivity of the targets.”
    I do want to know if the IC’s top analysts worked on the initial report rather than political hacks. Given the small size of qualified analysts, I would think some enterprising investigative reporter would be able to find out if the pros were involved or not without leaking classified information.

  28. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Cheka was acting, I believe, on direct orders from Lenin. There were to be no member of the Royal Family left that could be used by the Whites as the basis of a nascent legitimate authority to that of the Reds.

  29. Babak Makkinejad says:

    There has been repeated assertions, on this forum and elsewhere, that foreign intelligence agencies within the Western Fortress are completely and thorougly reliant on the capabilities of US in such aread as signsl intelligence, remote sensing etc.
    Since you are excluing UK, that only leaved Germany and France as possible candidates. Rather unp. unpersuasive.

  30. Babak Makkinejad says:

    In case of the Cultural Revolution, the difference can best be understood as one between Fantasists and Empiricists.

  31. Thomas says:

    “At noon on 17 July, Cheka officer Pyotr Startsev and a few Bolshevik workers came to the school. They took from the prisoners whatever money they had left and announced that they would be transferred that night to the Upper Siniachikhensky factory compound. The Red Army guards were told to leave and Cheka men replaced them. That night the prisoners were awakened and driven in carts on a road leading to the village of Siniachikha, some 18 kilometres (11 miles) from Alapayevsk where there was an abandoned iron mine with a pit 20 metres (66 feet) deep. Here they halted. The Cheka beat all the prisoners before throwing their victims into this pit, Elisabeth being the first. Hand grenades were then hurled down the shaft, but only one victim, Fyodor Remez, died as a result of the grenades.
    According to the personal account of Vasily Ryabov, one of the killers, Elisabeth and the others survived the initial fall into the mine, prompting Ryabov to toss in a grenade after them. Following the explosion, he claimed to have heard Elisabeth and the others singing an Orthodox hymn from the bottom of the shaft.[5] Unnerved, Ryabov threw down a second grenade, but the singing continued. Finally a large quantity of brushwood was shoved into the opening and set alight, upon which Ryabov posted a guard over the site and departed.”
    At least the Cheka could have shown the moral courage to properly execute them.
    Interesting date, July 17th, for their murderous eff up.

  32. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Light & Truth:
    I think the worst offense has been this anti-Shia posture of the Western Fortress; such things take a life of their own and are very difficult to alter later.
    The sight.of Trump in Saudi Arabia, comitting himself & US to an anti-Shia posture – together with so many Sunni Muslim leaders, was truly a deplorable spectacle to anyone who wants to avoid a religious war

  33. shepherd says:

    To explain, a “substantive” critique deals with the actual matter at hand. It deals with the facts about the accusation itself, not about the course of the investigation. I’m pointing out that Ritter’s critique misunderstands the resources available for the process he recommends, and in the mismatch, finds causation. I find this kind of argumentation misleading. You shouldn’t come to conclusions about facts based on your expectations of process, not least because people will not always act according to your expectations.
    In addition, Ritter compares this investigation to a process we all know went awry. This is a loaded comparison that should be disregarded by anyone trying to figure out what’s real and fake behind what’s been said.

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