MSM Coverage of Senate Intelligence Report Is Misleading

A day after Robert Mueller’s testimony before Congress, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report on supposed Russian interference in the 2016 election at the state and local level. The committee will be releasing four more reports relating to Russian interference over the next month. The heavily redacted report made the claim the Russian government directed extensive activity against "US election infrastructure." The activity was scanning the networks and servers of the "election infrastructure."

The findings section of the report said, "The Russian government directed extensive activity, beginning in at least 2014 and carrying into at least 2017, against U.S. election infrastructure’ at the state and local level." And that, "The Committee has seen no evidence that any votes were changed or that any voting machines were manipulated."

The report lacked any real evidence to link the activities to the Russian government. But of course, that’s not how the mainstream media reported it. Vox headlined their story, "New Senate Intelligence report shows ‘extensive’ Russia 2016 election interference." NBC’s headline read, "Senate Intelligence report finds ‘extensive’ Russian election interference." The Hill said, "Senate Intel finds ‘extensive’ Russian election interference going back to 2014."

None of these mainstream outlets explained how the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) determined that Russia was behind the activities. Page 11 of the report said, "DHS arrived at their initial assessment by evaluating whether the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) observed were consistent with previously observed Russian TTPs, whether the actors used known Russian-affiliated malicious infrastructure, and whether a state or local election system was the target."

Page 13 of the report said, "IP addresses associated with the August 18, 2016 FLASH (an FBI alert of a potential cyber-attack) provided some indications the activity might be attributable to the Russian government, particularly the GRU:" So the IP addresses only provide some "indications" that the activity "might be attributable to the Russian government."

The next few paragraphs are redacted. The only few sentences that are not redacted do not have the proper context to come to any real conclusion. Those sentences read, "One of the Netherlands-based [REDACTED] ‘exhibited the same behavior from the same node over a period of time. … It was behaving like … the same user or group of users was using this to direct activity against the same type of targets,’ according to DHS staff." Nothing else in the report tries to tie the activity to the Russian government.

Another claim in the report was that all 50 states were targeted, something that most media outlets repeated. That claim is based on an assumption the DHS had since they could not figure out a pattern to the scanning. After a chart explaining the varying degrees of scanning in up to 21 states, Illinois being the only one named, page 20 read, "Neither DHS nor the Committee can ascertain a pattern to the states targeted, lending credence to DHS’s later assessment that all 50 states probably were scanned." Notice the word "probably."

The New York Times headlined their story on the report as, "Russia Targeted Election Systems in All 50 States, Report Finds." The Progressive YouTube talk show The Young Turks titled their video on the story, "Russia Hacks All 50 States."

The rest of the report explains ways in which the states could make their voting systems more secure. It also expresses a desire to respect state’s privacy from the federal government.

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) wrote the minority views at the end of the report. Wyden said, "The defense of US national security against a highly sophisticated foreign government cannot be left to state and county officials. For that reason, I cannot support a report whose top recommendation is to ‘reinforce state’s primacy in running elections.’"

Wyden’s almost manic ravings in this report encapsulate the attitude towards Russia that is becoming all too common in the US today. Wyden wrote, "America is facing a direct assault on the heart of our democracy by a determined adversary. We would not ask a local sheriff to go to war against the missiles, planes and tanks of the Russian Army. We shouldn’t ask a county election IT employee to fight a war against the full capabilities and vast resources of Russia’s cyber army. That approach failed in 2016 and it will fail again."

While the claim that Russian hackers infiltrated our election system to observe and scan it could be true, nothing in this report – at least the redacted version – substantiates that claim. Media outlets, politicians and the intelligence community are all still pushing the idea that the Russian government hacked our elections in 2016, even though there is no concrete evidence.

A thing Russia-gaters like Senator Wyden like to say is that Russian cyber-attacks are a "threat to our democracy." But what is a real threat to our democracy is the fact that the establishment can blame any politician’s success on Russian interference or influence. Democrats are still blaming Trump’s victory in 2016 on Russia.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) has been the latest victim of this Russia smear. Shortly after she announced her candidacy for the 2020 presidential race NBC ran a story that said, "The Russian propaganda machine that tried to influence the 2016 US election is now promoting the presidential aspirations of a controversial Hawaii Democrat who earlier this month declared her intention to run for president in 2020." The article drew this conclusion from the fact that she was given a lot of coverage by Russian funded media outlets like RT. These media outlets make it no secret that they are funded by the Russian government.

Another hit piece on Gabbard came from the Daily Beast titled, "Tulsi Gabbard’s Campaign is Being Boosted by Putin Apologists." This sorry piece of journalism named three of Gabbard’s donors, two of them have been pushing for better US-Russia relations and the other one worked for a show on the RT network.

On Friday, the Washington Post ran a story titled, "Mitch McConnell is a Russian Asset." The article makes the wild accusation that McConnell is doing "Vladimir Putin’s bidding" since he has blocked some legislation to further secure elections.

Over the next month, the Senate Intelligence Committee will be releasing four more reports on Russian interference. It is almost a guarantee that most media outlets will be reporting the committee’s claims as fact. Unfortunately, the American people cannot count on the media to report on this honestly. Now every reporter and news outlet has a way to delegitimize any election they want if they’re not happy with the results. The real attack on US democracy is not from Russia, it’s from within.

Dave DeCamp is a freelance journalist based in Brooklyn NY, focusing on US foreign policy and wars. He recently joined as an assistant editor. He is on Twitter at @decampdave.