New York Times Corrects False Claim of Seventeen Intelligence Agencies Agreeing That Russia Hacked DNC

Hillary Clinton and her supporters have often claimed that all seventeen intelligence organizations have agreed that Russia is responsible for hacking the DNC email. A correction at The New York Times highlights how this claim of unanimous agreement is false:

A White House Memo article on Monday about President Trump’s deflections and denials about Russia referred incorrectly to the source of an intelligence assessment that said Russia orchestrated hacking attacks during last year’s presidential election. The assessment was made by four intelligence agencies — the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency. The assessment was not approved by all 17 organizations in the American intelligence community.

Robert Parry notes that this claim had already been debunked, with the assessment appearing like politicized intelligence similar to the claims of WMD under George Bush:

The reality of a more narrowly based Russia-gate assessment was admitted in May by President Obama’s Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Obama’s CIA Director John Brennan in sworn congressional testimony.

Clapper testified before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee on May 8 that the Russia-hacking claim came from a “special intelligence community assessment” (or ICA) produced by selected analysts from the CIA, NSA and FBI, “a coordinated product from three agencies – CIA, NSA, and the FBI – not all 17 components of the intelligence community,” the former DNI said.

Clapper further acknowledged that the analysts who produced the Jan. 6 assessment on alleged Russian hacking were “hand-picked” from the CIA, FBI and NSA.

Yet, as any intelligence expert will tell you, if you “hand-pick” the analysts, you are really hand-picking the conclusion. For instance, if the analysts were known to be hard-liners on Russia or supporters of Hillary Clinton, they could be expected to deliver the one-sided report that they did..

CIA Director William Casey and Deputy Director Robert Gates shepherded the desired findings through the process by putting the assessment under the control of pliable analysts and sidelining those who objected to this politicization of intelligence.

The point of enlisting the broader intelligence community – and incorporating dissents into a final report – is to guard against such “stove-piping” of intelligence that delivers the politically desired result but ultimately distorts reality.

Another painful example of politicized intelligence was President George W. Bush’s 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq’s WMD that removed State Department and other dissents from the declassified version that was given to the public.

Despite being debunked in the testimony by James Clapper, the claim of seventeen intelligence agencies agreeing continued to be widely repeated. The correction by The New York Times is a step in the right direction. Now we will wait for a retraction of the unsubstantiated claims reported by Russia Maddow on MSNBC.

The release of DNC email on Wikileaks, regardless of source, provided factual information which nobody has disputed about dishonesty on the part of Hillary Clinton, and the DNC violating their rules regarding being impartial in the nomination process.

Earlier this month Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said in his Congressional testimony: “To my current knowledge, the Russian government did not through any cyber intrusion alter ballots, ballot counts or reporting of election results.”

Contradictions on Syria

Apparently we have to bomb Syria because they used chemical weapons. I believe the mindset is that under international law, two wrongs can make a right.

Plus under Republican logic, Obama both exercises dictatorial powers and he is weak because he can’t decide to take military action without following the Constitution and going before Congress.

The most absurd reaction was Donald Rumsfeld saying Obama hasn’t made the case for striking Syria. He may be right, but Rumsfeld is in no position to question Obama about taking limited action regarding real WMD after he backed a major war over non-existent WMD.

Quote of the Day

“The Bush Presidential Library is beautiful, and they have a huge section devoted to weapons of mass destruction, but nobody can find it.” –David Letterman

Polling Belief In Conspiracy Theories

Public Policy Polling found that a substantial number of Americans believe in some conspiracy theories, but fortunately not many believe that lizard people are secretly taking power. The most significant finding related to current public policy is that a large majority of Republicans believe global warming is a hoax. A significant number of Republicans still believe that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks. Here is a summary of their findings:

–          37% of voters believe global warming is a hoax, 51% do not. Republicans say global warming is a hoax by a 58-25 margin, Democrats disagree 11-77, and Independents are more split at  41-51. 61% of Romney voters believe global warming is a hoax

–          6% of voters believe Osama bin Laden is still alive

–          21% of voters say a UFO crashed in Roswell, NM in 1947 and the US government covered it up. More Romney voters (27%) than Obama voters (16%) believe in a UFO coverup

–          28% of voters believe secretive power elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world through an authoritarian world government, or New World Order.  A plurality of Romney voters (38%) believe in the New World Order compared to 35% who don’t

–          28% of voters believe Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks.  36% of Romney voters believe Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11, 41% do not

–          20% of voters believe there is a link between childhood vaccines and autism, 51% do not

–          7% of voters think the moon landing was faked

–          13% of voters think Barack Obama is the anti-Christ, including 22% of Romney voters

–          Voters are split 44%-45% on whether Bush intentionally misled about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. 72% of Democrats think Bush lied about WMDs, Independents agree 48-45, just 13% of Republicans think so

–          29% of voters believe aliens exist

–          14% of voters say the CIA was instrumental in creating the crack cocaine epidemic in America’s inner cities in the 1980’s

–          9% of voters think the government adds fluoride to our water supply for sinister reasons (not just dental health)

–          4% of voters say they believe “lizard people” control our societies by gaining political power

–          51% of voters say a larger conspiracy was at work in the JFK assassination, just 25% say Oswald acted alone

–          14% of voters believe in Bigfoot

–          15% of voters say the government or the media adds mind-controlling technology to TV broadcast signals (the so-called Tinfoil Hat crowd)

–          5% believe exhaust seen in the sky behind airplanes is actually chemicals sprayed by the government for sinister reasons

–          15% of voters think the medical industry and the pharmaceutical industry “invent” new diseases to make money

–          Just 5% of voters believe that Paul McCartney actually died in 1966

–          11% of voters believe the US government allowed 9/11 to happen, 78% do not agree

Most of these beliefs are ridiculous, but a few do not really relate to conspiracy theories. Question 10 is “Do you believe aliens exist, or not?” The  question is regarding their existence (not whether they are visiting our planet) and, while we don’t know for certain, most likely there is life on some other planets, and therefore there aliens probably do exist.

Question 18 depends upon how it is interpreted: “Do you believe that the pharmaceutical  industry is in league with the medical industry
to ‘invent’ new diseases in order to make money, or not?” If you consider the marketing tactics used by drug companies. the National Institute of Health is promoting this “conspiracy theory.”

Question 9 is “Do you believe the Bush administration intentionally misled the public about the possibility of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to promote the Iraq War, or not?” The Bush administration was making statements which were blatantly untrue and which knowledgeable people at the time realized were false.  This leaves two possibilities. Either George Bush and people in his administration were utterly incompetent or they were lying. There is also good reason, based upon his actual statements and actions, that Bush had desired to invade Iraq even before 9/11, and used 9/11 as justification.  Granted there is no way to know for sure which is the explanation, but it is hardly believing in a conspiracy theory to believe that dishonesty is a more likely explanation for what occurred than the degree of incompetence necessary to rule out dishonesty. (This is not the same as believing that the Bush administration faked or was behind the 9/11 attack.)

Bush Admits No WMD

George Bush is on a book tour talking about how he still believes invading Iraq was the right decision, even though no WMD was found. While I disagree with his handling of the war and his premature cessation of the diplomatic efforts at the onset of the war, I’m glad he is saying this. Will this shut up any of the right wingers who still claim that WMD was found?

Media Matters Expands On My Earlier Argument On WMD

Earlier I had a post noting that the reports of WMD from old programs noted in the latest batch of Wikileaks documents does nothing to support Bush’s argument to rush to war. Media Matters makes this argument in far more detail.

No Threat of WMD Justifying War

Using the nonexistent threat of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to go to war was among the worst of many blunders during the Bush years.Even after government reports admitted that the search was about as successful as O.J. Simpson’s search for the “real killer,” some conservatives continued to defend Bush on this. The conservative blogosphere has presented an alternative reality on many matters, including spreading a myth of meaningful discoveries WMD.

Conservatives are so desperate to find justification for this myth that they are suddenly drawn to Wikileaks. They ignore the fact that the issue was never whether there was any evidence that there had ever been WMD in Iraq. We know that Iraq had WMD. After all, as the old joke went, we have the receipts. The question at the onset of the war was over whether Saddam possessed such a terrible arsenal of WMD that he could wipe out the western world within minutes, as supporters of the war claimed, requiring an immediate attack by the United States. Nothing presented in the leaked documents shows justification for the rush to war.

Update: More at Media Matters.

Academic Study of Ideologues Ignoring The Facts

The Boston Globe has an article which describes a phenomenon which has been clear for a long time as a new discovery. They reported on studies which found that people, especially ideologues, often ignore facts which contradict their views:

Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.

This bodes ill for a democracy, because most voters — the people making decisions about how the country runs — aren’t blank slates. They already have beliefs, and a set of facts lodged in their minds. The problem is that sometimes the things they think they know are objectively, provably false. And in the presence of the correct information, such people react very, very differently than the merely uninformed. Instead of changing their minds to reflect the correct information, they can entrench themselves even deeper.

“The general idea is that it’s absolutely threatening to admit you’re wrong,” says political scientist Brendan Nyhan, the lead researcher on the Michigan study. The phenomenon — known as “backfire” — is “a natural defense mechanism to avoid that cognitive dissonance.”

This is hardly surprising. We’ve seen this during the Iraq war as many conservatives held onto beliefs that there was WMD in Iraq or that Saddam was involved in the 9/11 attack. In addition, we see conservatives expressing numerous beliefs which are counter to fact. In economics we see conservatives hold onto the same erroneous economic views regardless of how often they lead to disaster. In science this includes belief in creationism and denial of the human role in climate change. In history we see a growing number of conservatives deny the fact that the Founding Fathers supported separation of church and state despite all the historical documentation that this is what they intended.

The conservative movement, with its disconnect from reality, is also prone to spreading unfounded conspiracy theories. In recent elections we’ve seen them hold onto disputed claims such as those from the Swift Boat Liars and the Birthers. Many conservatives continue to claim that neither John Kerry’s military record or Barack Obama’s birth certificate have been released. In reality, not only have both documents been made public but they have also been posted on line. Then we have the Tea Party movement which is totally disconnected from reality.

Of course there are also some nutty views held on the far left too. The difference is that  the left in this country is dominated by people who are generally pragmatic and even moderate by international standards. Those with views which are contrary to fact on the left tend to have little influence, while the conservative movement has become dominated by ideologues who deny the facts whenever they contradict their extremist views.

The researchers looked at a few specific issues:

New research, published in the journal Political Behavior last month, suggests that once those facts — or “facts” — are internalized, they are very difficult to budge. In 2005, amid the strident calls for better media fact-checking in the wake of the Iraq war, Michigan’s Nyhan and a colleague devised an experiment in which participants were given mock news stories, each of which contained a provably false, though nonetheless widespread, claim made by a political figure: that there were WMDs found in Iraq (there weren’t), that the Bush tax cuts increased government revenues (revenues actually fell), and that the Bush administration imposed a total ban on stem cell research (only certain federal funding was restricted). Nyhan inserted a clear, direct correction after each piece of misinformation, and then measured the study participants to see if the correction took.

For the most part, it didn’t. The participants who self-identified as conservative believed the misinformation on WMD and taxes even more strongly after being given the correction. With those two issues, the more strongly the participant cared about the topic — a factor known as salience — the stronger the backfire. The effect was slightly different on self-identified liberals: When they read corrected stories about stem cells, the corrections didn’t backfire, but the readers did still ignore the inconvenient fact that the Bush administration’s restrictions weren’t total.

Incorrect views on the right, such as on WMD and the effect of tax cuts, are fairly widespread. I imagine that there are some on the left who believe that Bush supported total restrictions on stem cell research, but most liberal writings have been more specific in criticizing Bush for the federal restrictions on funding of stem cell research. Articles frequently noted that, while the ban was not total, Bush’s limitations on the stem cell lines on which research was allowed wound up crippling stem cell research.

This phenomenon described is hardly surprising or anything new, but there might be some value in publicizing such academic research. This might help a bit in countering the misinformation which commonly comes from Fox and the Tea Party rallies. Of course the research also demonstrates what we already knew–those who believe these claims are unlikely to change their minds based upon the facts.

Conservatives Gone Mad

Marc Ambinder is wondering about something which most of us noticed quite a while ago in asking, Have Conservatives Gone Mad? He provides some examples:

It is absolutely a condition of the age of the triumph of conservative personality politics, where entertainers shouting slogans are taken seriously as political actors, and where the incentive structures exist to stomp on dissent and nuance, causing experimental voices to retrench and allowing a lot of people to pretend that the world around them is not changing. The obsession with ACORN, Climategate, death panels, the militarization of rhetoric, Saul Alinsky, Chicago-style politics,   that TAXPAYERS will fund the bailout of banks — these aren’t meaningful or interesting or even relevant things to focus on. (The banks will fund their own bailouts.)

There are far more examples. For example, climategate is just one example of the rejection of science by many conservatives (accompanied by a conspiracy theory based upon their creative misinterpretation of stolen email). There’s also their rejection of evolution, along with cosmology or any other branch of science which conflicts with a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible.  Plenty of other conspiracy theories, along with rejection of science, are also popular on the far right, especially if we extend to the Ron Paul crowd. At least the Paul supporters don’t accept the beliefs still held by many on the right that Saddam was involved in the 9/11 attack and that Iraq had WMD at the start of the war.

Hatred of Obama has brought about a new set of reliefs which are unteathered from reality, from the claims that he was born outside of the United States to the claims he is a Muslim or a Marxist. Of course this is nothing new. The current bogus claims about Obama are as absurd as the discredited claims of the Swift Boat Liars. Right wingers continue to base conspiracy theories upon claims that both John Kerry’s war records and Barack Obama’s birth certificate are being kept secret. It is hardly a secret when both documents  have been posted on the internet.

Ambinder speculates as to the causes of this insanity:

Conor Friedersdorf thinks the problem lies with the conservative movement’s major spokespeople  — its radio/net news nexus — and the “overwhelming evidence that their very existence as popular entertainers hinges on an ability to persuade listeners that they are “‘worth taking seriously as political and intellectual actors.'” That is why the constant failures of these men to live up to their billing is so offensive, destructive, and ruinous to conservatives. There are plenty of women, too, is all I’ll say.

The right wing noise machine is certainly responsible for much of the problem. In many cases it isn’t even clear if the clowns who spread their insane beliefs even believe what they are saying, or are just doing this because it is an easy way to make a good living. Scott Adams has speculated about this and written, “I find it mind boggling that anyone believes a TV talk host is expressing his own true views.” We’ve had Glenn Beck say “I could give a flying crap about the political process.” Beck has also described himself as “a rodeo clown” and conceded, “If you take what I say as gospel, you’re an idiot.”

Unfortunately there are a lot of idiots who actually believe the things that people like Glenn Beck say, regardless of how much evidence there is that he makes it up. Ambinder has a suggestion for the media as to how to respond:

I think this sensibility is pervasive throughout the smart media — old and new. I think it’s one reason why, say, Jake Tapper and other good reporters are very keen about direct fact-challenging — why the media is reasserting itself as gatekeepers. (CNN might want to think about branding themselves here, even at the risk (well, the reality) of calling out Republicans more.) I think it’s because there’s so much misinformation out there — most of it spread by the conservative echo-chamber. With the advent of Fox News and the power of that echo-chamber, complaints about liberal media bias are quite irrelevant — the reaction to it being like lupus’s reaction to the body, as Jon Stewart correctly noted.

It would certainly be useful to have Jake Tapper of ABC, CNN, and others devote more time to fact checking. The far right will just write off the facts as liberal bias but maybe having the facts out there more will do some good. Fact checking will definitely play into the belief that CNN is a liberal counterpart to Fox which is absurd when you look at how many Republicans they have hired in recent years  since the network was sold by Ted Turner. There is no doubt that they will have far more to fact check with Republican than Democratic statements, plus the Republican falsehoods are much further from reality than the errors coming from the Democrats.

Acorn Cleared By Brooklyn Prosecutors; Tape Found To Be Edited

ACORN was cleared of criminal wrongdoing by Brooklyn prosecutors and the supposedly incriminating tape was found to have been edited. New York Daily News reports:

Brooklyn prosecutors on Monday cleared ACORN of criminal wrongdoing after a four-month probe that began when undercover conservative activists filmed workers giving what appeared to be illegal advice on how to hide money.

While the video by James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles seemed to show three ACORN workers advising a prostitute how to hide ill-gotten gains, the unedited version was not as clear, according to a law enforcement source.

“They edited the tape to meet their agenda,” said the source.

O’Keefe and Giles – who visited ACORN offices in several cities, including its Brooklyn headquarters – stirred controversy when they posted the videos on their Web site.

They were hailed as heroes by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and their footage led several government agencies to temporarily cut funding for ACORN as the prosecutors opened an investigation.

“On Sept. 15, 2009, my office began an investigation into possible criminality on the part of three ACORN employees,” Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes said in a one-paragraph statement issued Monday afternoon.

“That investigation is now concluded and no criminality has been found.”

Update: Many of the attacks on Acorn from the right wing were based upon false information spread by Andrew Breitbart. Media Matters reports that Breitbart has walked back his claims of criminality on the part of ACORN.

Even though the evidence against ACORN has been shown to have been fabricated my bet is that this will not change the attitude of most on the right. They enjoy  living  in their fantasy world and have far too many defenses built up to protect them from facing reality.

The American right wing has become an authoritarian movement which operates by fabricating false evidence to demonize their opponents.  They will hold to their fantasies about ACORN just as many on the right still think that Saddam was involved with the 9/11 attack, there was WMD in Iraq at the time of the war, that the claims of the Swift Boat Liars about John Kerry were anything other than politically motivated lies, and that Barack Obama is a Muslim born outside of the United States.