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Davidson writes: "Rocks, pebbles, scissors, tweets: coming at us, in all directions. This is a hearing that was provoked as much, or more, by Trump's disdain for facts as it was by the hacking itself. And yet it wasn't much of a sober examination of cybersecurity, or even of what exactly happened during the Presidential election."

James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, in Washington. (photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)
James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, in Washington. (photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)


Decoding McCain's Hearing on Trump vs. Spies

By Amy Davidson, The New Yorker

08 January 17

 

n Thursday morning, Senator John McCain, of Arizona, convened a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on the subject of cybersecurity, “in the aftermath of an unprecedented attack on our democracy.” By that, McCain meant, mostly, the theft and release of e-mails belonging to the Democratic National Committee and to John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, which the American intelligence community believes to have been the work of hackers connected to the Russian government. But a lot of the senators had more on their mind. The main witnesses, James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, and Admiral Mike Rogers, the head of the National Security Agency, were asked if Donald Trump had demoralized spies by casting doubt on their hacking assessment (possibly, but they hadn’t taken a poll); if the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, had any credibility (neither thought so); and if anyone really listened to the radio anymore (yes). That last question came from Senator Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, who thought that the United States was not on top of the information war against Russia. Graham judged a cautionary note that Clapper had offered about espionage and people who “live in glass houses” inadequate to the moment. “I think what Obama did was throw a pebble. I’m ready to throw a rock,” Graham said. He glanced around the chamber with a look of cold eagerness, and added, “So to those of you who want to throw rocks, you’re going to get a chance here soon.”

Rocks, pebbles, scissors, tweets: coming at us, in all directions. This is a hearing that was provoked as much, or more, by Trump’s disdain for facts as it was by the hacking itself. And yet it wasn’t much of a sober examination of cybersecurity, or even of what exactly happened during the Presidential election. An intelligence report on the subject is still in the works (it is due Friday, with the public getting some version of it next week), and so Clapper and Rogers repeatedly demurred when asked for specifics. Clapper was clear, though, that he and his colleagues believed that the Russians had been up to no good. He said that when the report came out it would suggest a motive behind the hacking—“actually, more than one motive.” There were certainly multiple motives behind the hearing, most of them partisan. McCain hopped between a Cold War antipathy for the Russians and his own complex relationship with his party’s President-elect. McCain had endorsed Trump, then unendorsed him, and now seems to want to work with him, even though he has been dismissive of the entire premise of the hearings. McCain, after his suggestion that the Russian role was historic in nature, quickly added that the point of the hearings was “not to question the results of the election.” In one of his first questions to Clapper, McCain said that if the Russians had been successful “in changing the results of an election, which none of us believe they were”—he drew that word out, into what sounded like a cross between a purr and a warning, and then continued—“that would have to constitute an attack on the United States of America because of the effects if they had succeeded, would you agree with that?”

Clapper responded hesitantly at first, addressing what McCain had taken as a given—that the Russians had failed. There had not been changes in “tallies or anything of that sort,” he said. That is, no hacking of Election Day. As for the rest, “certainly the intelligence community can’t gauge the impact it had on choices the electorate made,” Clapper said. When McCain nudged him back to his main question, Clapper said, “Whether or not that constitutes an act of war, I think, is a very heavy policy call that I don’t believe the intelligence community can make, but it certainly would carry, in my view, great gravity.”

Later in the hearing, Clapper said that his sense of concern, both as the director of National Intelligence and as “a citizen,” was not confined to cyber crimes but to “a multifaceted campaign that the Russians mounted,” which involved “disparaging our system, our alleged hypocrisy about human rights, et cetera, et cetera.” He added, “All of these other modes—whether it is RT”—the Russian English-language television news network—“use of social media, fake news—they exercised all of those capabilities in addition to the hacking.” The quality of the stories that come from these sources is an issue for citizens, but Clapper’s formulation should raise some notes of caution about when and whether it is, indeed, a matter for the head of an American intelligence agency. Do complaints about American hypocrisy really belong in the same category as “fake news,” let alone hacking? When does a complaint become a “capability”?

It was the Democrats, meanwhile, who were most concerned with expressing outrage that the President-elect, or really anyone, would doubt the American intelligence community. “Who actually is the benefactor of someone who is about to become Commander-in-Chief trashing the intelligence community?” Senator Claire McCaskill, of Missouri, demanded. (When Clapper didn’t come up with the names, she supplied them: “Iran, North Korea, China, Russia, and ISIS.”) She added, “There would be howls—and, mark my words, if the roles were reversed there would be howls from the Republican side of the aisle.” That is, without a doubt, correct, and another reminder of how the G.O.P. has abased itself in the presence of Donald Trump. And yet the Democrats’ passion on this point seemed, at times, to be too much even for Clapper, who noted that the agencies weren’t “perfect” and that his own “fingerprints” had been on the broken assessment that Iraq had an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, laying the groundwork for a disastrous invasion. He did say that he thought that they’d improved since then. (No one seemed interested in reminding Clapper, who is retiring in a few weeks, that a lie he had told the Senate about the N.S.A.’s activities had played a role in the Edward Snowden affair, as my colleague Ryan Lizza has reported.)

The hacking of the D.N.C. exposed risks to our electoral system; the way that all sides have responded to it has not revealed great reservoirs of strength. The Democrats are rightly dismayed by Trump’s reckless indifference, but they have not found their voice on the issue—that is, a way to integrate it into a critique of Trumpism, rather than of Trump’s inconsistencies. (As my colleague John Cassidy wrote today, they may be doing better with Obamacare.) Some “establishment” Republicans, like McCain and Graham, seem only ready to take on Trump when they view him as insufficiently hawkish. Graham used the hearing to warn Trump that if at some point he wanted to take military action against someone he might find himself needing to point to the intelligence community’s findings to justify that action to the American people, and so he shouldn’t mock them now. If these Republicans are serious about making sure that their President stays in the neighborhood of the truth—and about pushing back against his demagoguery—that won’t be enough.

One of the more sensible comments came from Senator Angus King, the independent from Maine, who recalled a trip to the Baltic states, during which he had asked local officials how they dealt with what has, for years, been a barrage of fake news and electoral interference. He had been told of various countermeasures, but the defense that worked best, ultimately, was “for our public to know what’s going on so they can take it with a grain of salt. . . . Their people now say, ‘Oh yeah, that’s just the Russians.’ ” King added, “We need to have our people understand when they’re being manipulated.” Under the Trump Administration, that may count as a basic survival skill. It won’t just be about what’s coming from the Russians. They are not the only ones controlling Twitter accounts. People in White Houses throw a lot of rocks, too.


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+34 # mashiguo 2017-01-08 13:41
You can repeat it all you want, it's still a big lie.
Hacking our democracy, indeed.
What democracy?
 
 
+33 # CDMR 2017-01-08 18:07
mash -- yes, indeed. A corrupt and democracy stealing DNC was exposed by its own words. Then the emails of John Podesta, Hillary's campaign chairman and registered lobbiest for Saudi Arabia, were leaked and published on the web. Podesta is a rapist of democracy every day he breathes. Whoever leaked his email did a service to democracy.

Democracy cannot exist in a world of secrecy and corrupt power brokers like the Clintons and Podestas. The leaking and publication of these emails were the most democratic thing that happened in 2016. People have a right to know. We are all grateful. It is only the anti-democratic forces in the US -- such as the CIA, ODNI, Obama, NSA, McCain, Graham -- that are now squealing like stuck pigs. Let them squeal. No one gives a shit.
 
 
+4 # CDMR 2017-01-09 05:36
I should add that in my view the rebpulican party is a worse democracy wrecker than the democrats. The Demos are just the republican's junior partner. But this time, it was the Demos who got caught, so we should be grateful to whomever leaked the emails. Maybe next time it will be RNC emails.
 
 
-35 # jdd 2017-01-08 18:34
It is RSN which is now simply an outlet for the propaganda machine - no lie is too big to repeat over and over and over. WMD #2.
 
 
+6 # wrknight 2017-01-09 07:38
Quoting mashiguo:
You can repeat it all you want, it's still a big lie.
Hacking our democracy, indeed.
What democracy?

It's the DNC and the RNC that have screwed our democracy and are threats to what little remains of it.

Three cheers for the hackers or leakers, whoever they were for exposing the DNC. I just wish they had done the same to the RNC.

And screw Crapper and the those a'holes on Senate Armed Services Committee that rob the poor to feed the malignant military-indust rial complex.
 
 
+10 # ReconFire 2017-01-08 14:11
Just a never ending "Groundhog Day".
 
 
+10 # DongiC 2017-01-08 15:47
If Trump wishes to take military action against someome (China?), he may need the intelligence services to help him sell such an action. Quite clever of McCain, I think, to think of that.
 
 
+23 # jdd 2017-01-08 18:36
Yes. the insane warmonger McCain is now the Republican of choice for the Obama Dems,
 
 
+9 # pro54 2017-01-08 20:15
Look who is toadying along with McCain and Graham to keep tensions up between the US and Russia, non other than Senator Klobuchar. yes, Obama democrats. I have been keeping logs since the primary hijack and know when to shred the fund raising letters. Better give that money to RSN.
http://www.thedailybeast.com/cheats/2016/12/31/mccain-visits-ukraine-predicts-defeat-over-russia-in-2017.html?via=desktop&source=copyurl
 
 
+16 # librarian1984 2017-01-09 00:40
McCaskill too was 'outraged' by anyone who would dare question the brave agents who blah blah blah. It was disgusting to watch them falling all over themselves trying to compliment them the most, while that lying Clapper acted like an indolent snake full of rat.
 
 
+11 # dquandle 2017-01-09 00:58
Clinton was always tremendously cosy with McGoon the "maverick". They share a psychotic love of war.
 
 
+4 # wrknight 2017-01-09 07:43
Quoting dquandle:
Clinton was always tremendously cosy with McGoon the "maverick" (from Arizona). They share a psychotic love of war.

Don't forget, Hillary was a Goldwater girl, and where was Barry Goldwater from? You guessed it - Arizona.
 
 
-1 # dquandle 2017-01-09 21:40
He always has been. He and Hillary are in love. And they've had a child. A vicious psychopathic jowly child. Kriegskind, they call it.
 
 
+1 # Radscal 2017-01-09 23:53
"I'm With Her"... to the very pits of hell... and taking the rest of the country and world down with them.
 
 
+20 # CDMR 2017-01-08 20:00
Dongi --- Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! It was the CIA which provided the marines with intelligence for the invasions of Genada and Somalia. In both cases, the marines got lost. In Grenada they had to stop at a tourist bureau to find the way to the president's house. In Somalia, the intelligence was leaked to the media which set up cameras and light that blinded the beach storming marines.

If Trump wants to invade somewhere, he'd better not tell the CIA. The CIA has fucked up every war the US has fought since 1948.

I hope Trump will not want to invade anyone.
 
 
+15 # CDMR 2017-01-08 18:11
This author just needs to be more careful with her words --

"This is a hearing that was provoked as much, or more, by Trump’s disdain for facts as it was by the hacking itself."

No facts have been presented other than the emails were authentically from the DNC, Podesta, Hillary, and the campaign team. No facts have been presented to explain how they came to the public's attention other than Assange received them and he published them.

Trump is not disdaining any facts. He is disdaining baseless accusations and wild conspiracy theories.

It is actually quite funny to see the mass media in an all out orgy of conspiracy theorizing.
 
 
+23 # dipierro4 2017-01-08 19:15
"...Trump is not disdaining any facts. He is disdaining baseless accusations and wild conspiracy theories..."

Perhaps he was not disdaining facts in the context of specific facts cited in the article; at least not yet. But he does disdain facts, quite freely and whenever it suits him, which is often; that is, unless flatly lying doesn't count as mere "disdain" (e.g., millions of people voted illegally).

As to just what the Russians did in regard to the US election, I don't know, and I don't imagine Trump knows, and I agree the Dems probably are being too quick with some of their accusations. But does this make Trump respectful of the truth? Not by a long shot.
 
 
-10 # Depressionborn 2017-01-08 20:25
# dipierro4 2017-01-08 19:15, you tell falsehoods
 
 
+2 # wrknight 2017-01-09 07:49
Quoting dipierro4:
"...Trump is not disdaining any facts. He is disdaining baseless accusations and wild conspiracy theories..."

Perhaps he was not disdaining facts in the context of specific facts cited in the article; at least not yet. But he does disdain facts, quite freely and whenever it suits him, which is often; that is, unless flatly lying doesn't count as mere "disdain" (e.g., millions of people voted illegally).

As to just what the Russians did in regard to the US election, I don't know, and I don't imagine Trump knows, and I agree the Dems probably are being too quick with some of their accusations. But does this make Trump respectful of the truth? Not by a long shot.

And I don't even care. There's no way in hell the Russians or anyone else could have done as much damage to our elections as the DNC did. The RNC comes close - they tried, but the DNC really f'ked the election.
 
 
+31 # SusanH 2017-01-08 19:15
The author doesn't question even the basic lie/assumption - that it was hacking that revealed the extent of anti-democratic actions by the DNC and Killary. Reliable sources say it was whistle-blowing /leaking. Redo the primary: Bernie should be President.
And why isn't Clapper in prison for lying to Congress?
 
 
+24 # GoGreen! 2017-01-08 19:40
I don't think it was some foreign nation hacking our political parties. It was another 'inside job'. There is a fight between people in our security forces who want real democracy where the elected officials really represent the people, and the others want to get ahead in our totally corrupt government so they just shut up about the corruption.

Big deal. I think most people in this nation know that our government is corrupt. Our two party system where we only get to vote for the lesser evil and never can vote for the good in fear that things will just get worse. Well, it does get worse under this system. We need more choices and public finance of the campaigns.
 
 
-1 # wrknight 2017-01-09 07:59
Quoting GoGreen!:
I don't think it was some foreign nation hacking our political parties. It was another 'inside job'.
I strongly suspect you are right. But I really don't give a shit who did it.

Quoting GoGreen!:
There is a fight between people in our security forces who want real democracy where the elected officials really represent the people, and the others want to get ahead in our totally corrupt government so they just shut up about the corruption.
Well, there is also a severe penalty for publicly disagreeing with the party line. (Don't punish the privates for the mistakes of the generals.)
 
 
+6 # Robbee 2017-01-08 20:44
Quoting SusanH:
And why isn't Clapper in prison for lying to Congress?

- there's no political advantage to be gained

why isn't (fill in the blank!)?
 
 
+28 # kcmwilson 2017-01-08 19:29
The real "stupid" in all this is making the issue all about the release of hacked e-mails, and not about the fact that a bunch of egocentric jerks wrote a bunch of truly stupid crap and sent it around on the internet.
Hillary was the only Democrat on Earth who could have lost to Donald Trump! This election would have been a wrap for Dems if Hillary would have just stayed home and cared for grand babies.
 
 
+19 # jwb110 2017-01-08 19:54
All the stuff that went on in this last election was going on in the 50s when it was all about the Red Scare. There were plenty of publications that were making up news even then. The difference was that there was no 24 hour news cycle. There were multiple newspapers to read, and most people read at least two. Radio was ever popular. TV was newish. Reporters on TV and Radio, were not talking heads. Many had served in WW2. Most were politically savvy and had been around a while. The thing most relevant is that the population paid attention. Knew how their government worked, there were actual civics classes not social studies. The barrage of what claims to be news in this country is overwhelming and polarized in such a way to exclude a middle ground. And, I would posit, that if Clapper and the Intelligence community spent as much time investigating the Russians as they do gathering intel from their own fellow citizens we might have gotten some real and timely information. Who is the real enemy in all this? Now there's a question to ponder.
 
 
+3 # angelfish 2017-01-08 20:42
The ReTHUGlican Party has shown itself to be the MOST Duplicitous, Conniving, UN-American Pack of Hyenas EVER to have sat in our Congress! They don't give a Fiddler's Bitch about this country, her People, or her survival! With God's good help we will be RID of all these Treasonous Leeches who have Sucked the American People DRY with their Theft of Services, as in NOT performing ANY that HELPED a Single Soul in this country EXCEPT their OWN Soulless selves! RePudiate them and SCORN them in EVERY way Possible until they REALIZE the Damage they have inflicted! shame,Shame, SHAME on them!
 
 
+1 # wrknight 2017-01-09 08:04
Quoting angelfish:
The ReTHUGlican Party has shown itself to be the MOST Duplicitous, Conniving, UN-American Pack of Hyenas EVER to have sat in our Congress! They don't give a Fiddler's Bitch about this country, her People, or her survival! With God's good help we will be RID of all these Treasonous Leeches who have Sucked the American People DRY with their Theft of Services, as in NOT performing ANY that HELPED a Single Soul in this country EXCEPT their OWN Soulless selves! RePudiate them and SCORN them in EVERY way Possible until they REALIZE the Damage they have inflicted! shame,Shame, SHAME on them!

Hey, don't give the ReTHUGs all the credit. The Demoniacs should get some credit, too.
 
 
+8 # dotlady 2017-01-08 21:09
Agree with jwb110 (2017-01-08 19:54). There is a mystery to be revealed. Someone somewhere really doesn't like HRC, but there is more going on here than we are being shown. Red herrings and cover stories. Despite all the pervasive surveillance,th ere is no cybersecurity, is the real issue. No way to find the truth in the news. We're had. "Hoist on our own petard." It's not the first time.
 
 
+6 # elizabethblock 2017-01-08 22:05
“Who actually is the benefactor of someone who is about to become Commander-in-Ch ief trashing the intelligence community?” Senator Claire McCaskill, of Missouri, demanded. (When Clapper didn’t come up with the names, she supplied them: “Iran, North Korea, China, Russia, and ISIS.”)
Doesn't she mean "beneficiary"?
 
 
+13 # elizabethblock 2017-01-08 22:06
And does anyone think that this whole episode will result in the United States rethinking its policy of interfering in other people's elections, supporting coups, attempting regime change, etc.? Nope? I don't think so either. Good for the goose, but not for the gander.
 
 
+2 # wrknight 2017-01-09 08:09
Come, come, liz. Policy makers in this country never rethink anything. As long as the policy makes money for the 1%, it's good - regardless how it affects anyone else.
 
 
+9 # elizabethblock 2017-01-08 22:11
Was it Ryan Lizza who suggested that we have a new verb: "to clapper," meaning "to lie to Congress"?
 
 
+3 # Paul Larudee 2017-01-09 00:36
We should always trust our experts to warn us when the sky is falling. Experts are much better than evidence. See how they stopped the WMDs?
 
 
+4 # John Puma 2017-01-09 05:10
When McCranky and Graham-cracked (aka "the Big Bad Baghdad Bros.") get to huffin' & puffin' from their committee seats you know two things will result:

1) "vital" increases in the funding of the already bloated perpetual war, and domestic surveillance, machine and

2) mass deaths of ruddy-skinned "folks" on the other side of the world from WaDC
 
 
+5 # harleysch 2017-01-09 06:09
I'm surprised no one commented on Clapper's statement that part of the so-called Russian campaign against the U.S. was to write about "our alleged hypocrisy about human rights"!!!!!

Alleged hypocrisy? In Clapper's case, when he lied to Congress about NSA spying on Americans, he was covering up the violation of human rights of American citizens. There was nothing alleged about it, as he later admitted -- it happened!

And GITMO, drone attacks, the number of non-violent (and often innocent) citizens locked up in our prison system, etc. -- there is absolute, total hypocrisy in the U.S. government's attack on other nations, while engaging in such actions.
 
 
+5 # wrknight 2017-01-09 08:13
Hypocrisy in the U.S. goes way, way beyond human rights abuses. How about all of our concern for foreign intervention in our elections? Hell, the U.S. doesn't limit itself to simply influencing foreign elections - if it doesn't like who is elected, we'll just go in and take him out. It's called "regime change".

The whole world should be calling out the U.S. for hypocrisy.
 

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