CANARD–a false or unfounded report or story; especially : a fabricated report. That's how Merriam Dictionary defines the term and it certainly seems to be a dandy word to describe the claim that Russia interfered in the 2016 Presidential election and that the 17 U.S. intelligence agencies agree.
May I nominate Hillary Clinton as The Queen of the Canard? Last month, during an interview by Walt Mossberg at the CODE conference, Hillary was eager to feed the lie that Russia ensured Donald Trump's victory and cited "17" U.S. intelligence agencies as her evidence:
Hillary: Now, the question is, where and how did the Russians get into this? And I think it’s a very important question. So, I assume that a lot of people here may have — and if you haven’t, I hope you will — read the declassified report by the Intelligence community that came out in early January.
Mossberg: This is 17 agencies …
Hillary: Seventeen agencies, all in agreement, which I know from my experience as a Senator and Secretary of State, is hard to get. They concluded with high confidence that the Russians ran an extensive information war campaign against my campaign, to influence voters in the election. They did it through paid advertising we think, they did it through false news sites, they did it through these thousand agents, they did it through machine learning, which you know, kept spewing out this stuff over and over again. The algorithms that they developed. So that was the conclusion. And I think it’s fair to ask, how did that actually influence the campaign? And how did they know what messages to deliver?
We can forgive Hillary for her confusion about this supposed fact given her apparent reliance on the joint statement issued 7 October 2016 by the Director of National Intelligence and the Director of Homeland Security:
The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations. The recent disclosures of alleged hacked e-mails on sites like DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts. These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process. Such activity is not new to Moscow—the Russians have used similar tactics and techniques across Europe and Eurasia, for example, to influence public opinion there. We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia's senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.
But this was not a legitimate judgement of the U.S. intelligence community and did not reflect the views of 17 separate U.S. intelligence agencies. Why?
Very simple–there was no written document expressing such a judgement. In fact, the only document ultimately produced on subject of Russian interference did not appear until January 2017 and it only reflected the views of the CIA, the NSA and the FBI.
When the President, the Congress and the American people are told that "THE U.S. INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY IS CONFIDENT, then it is not surprising that the American people would believe that they are receiving the collective views of subject matter experts. In other words, they believe they are being given the truth by experts instead of being subjected to an off-the-cuff water cooler chat up by some fat guy with an opinion. Common sense would tell you that a community judgement on Russian hacking is not going to be signed off on by a U.S. Customs analyst who tracks the movement of cartel mules or a U.S. Coast Guard analyst who knows how to spot and track illegal fishing trawlers. Instead, we expect to be hearing from analysts and investigators with expertise in areas such as forensic computer investigations or Russian intelligence organizations.
When Jim Clapper and Jeh Johnson released their statement last October they both knew that there had been no document written and then circulated among the U.S. Intelligence Community for review and approval (aka clearance). In other words, a draft report on Russian hacking by a CIA analyst (under a normal coordination process) and coordinated by the National Intelligence Council aka the NIC did not happen. We had to wait six months for Jim Clapper to tell us the truth. During testimony before the U.S. Senate, Clapper informed Senator Franken that there was no such conclusion by "17 Intelligence agencies."
FRANKEN: And I want to thank General Clapper and – and Attorney General Yates for – for appearing today. We have – the intelligence communities have concluded all 17 of them that Russia interfered with this election. And we all know how that’s right.
CLAPPER: Senator, as I pointed out in my statement Senator Franken, it was there were only three agencies that directly involved in this assessment plus my office…
FRANKEN: But all 17 signed on to that?
CLAPPER: Well, we didn’t go through that – that process, this was a special situation because of the time limits and my – what I knew to be to who could really contribute to this and the sensitivity of the situation, we decided it was a constant judgement to restrict it to those three. I’m not aware of anyone who dissented or – or disagreed when it came out.
This takes us back to the report I referenced in my previous piece (Fake News and the Russian Interference Lie), which only had clearance from the CIA, NSA and the FBI. Why were State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research and the Defense Intelligence Agency excluded? They have legitimate expertise and the same access to the intelligence that the other three agencies have. Frankly, it is that can of maneuver that reveals the political purpose behind the ginned up campaign to portray Russia and the ultimate puppet master of elections.
One final observation. Just because the United States Intelligence Community (aka USIC) claims something to be true there is no guarantee they are right. In fact, we have the historical record surrounding the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (aka NIE) on Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction. There was community consensus on that document and it was wrong. There were no weapons. And the United States Intelligence Community is not infallible.
It is now more than six months since Donald Trump won the Presidential election and we still do not have a well-sourced, thoroughly coordinated document from the USIC that actually describes what the Russians did and how those actions did (or did not) turn the election in the favor of one candidate. This is either a case of gross incompetence and negligence or it is evidence that there is no real intelligence behind these claims. Or, maybe it is both.