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Explosive Washington Post Story on 'Russian Hackers' Can't Name a Single Source

© AP Photo / Pablo Martinez MonsivaisWashington Post
Washington Post - Sputnik International
On Friday, the Washington Post published a tantalizing article citing a 'secret CIA assessment' meant to conclusively show that Russia was behind the hack and release of thousands of DNC emails this summer. The only problem, says journalist Glenn Greenwald, is that the story consists of nothing but unverified claims by unnamed sources.

The Washington Post piece, boldly titled 'Secret CIA Assessment says Russia was trying to help Trump win White House', claimed that the Russian hack was meant not just to "undermine confidence in the US electoral system," but to explicitly "help Donald Trump win the presidency." The article goes on to say that "intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails" from the DNC and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.

The entire 1,600-word piece consists of attributions to unnamed "officials briefed on the matter" to back up its claims, citing these "officials" half-a-dozen times before asking for commentary from more anonymous "senior US officials" briefed on an intelligence presentation for US senators.

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Glenn Greenwald, a journalist at The Intercept known for his critical assessment of unsubstantiated media claims, called the Washington Post piece "classic American journalism of the worst sort," pointing out that the article's key claims are "based exclusively on the unverified assertions of anonymous officials, who in turn are disseminating their own claims about what the CIA purportedly believes, all based on evidence that remains completely secret."

​Greenwald also cited a similar second piece, this one in the New York Times, and also released Friday. That article, with the even more authoritative headline "Russian Hackers Acted to Aid Trump in Election, US Says," cited some more unnamed officials claiming with "high confidence" that US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia "acted covertly in the latter stages of the presidential campaign to harm Hillary Clinton's chances and promote Donald J. Trump."

Significantly, the Washington Post admitted that "intelligence agencies do not have specific intelligence showing officials in the Kremlin 'directing' the identified individuals to pass the Democratic emails to WikiLeaks." But this admission, meant to protect the authors from potential criticism, is made ten paragraphs down, in an article boldly stating that the CIA assessment said that Russia was to blame for everything.

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Unfortunately, Greenwald noted, the articles in the Washington Post and the New York Times are significant precisely because they will likely help "to shape how people understand the 2016 election and probably foreign policy debates for months if not years to come." Accordingly, he added, "it's critical to keep in mind some basic facts" about the hacks, and specifically the highly contentious allegation of Russian government involvement. After all, despite months of very public accusations by the Democratic Party and the Obama administration, there still hasn't been any substantive evidence presented regarding Moscow's complicity. 

"What we have instead," Greenwald stressed, "are assertions, disseminated by anonymous people, completely unaccompanied by any evidence, let alone proof…Anonymous claims leaked to newspapers about what the CIA believes do not constitute proof, and certainly do not constitute reliable evidence that substitutes for actual evidence that can be reviewed."

​Proceeding to rip into the US intelligence agency for its repeated and systematic lying, citing sources in credible US and UK newspapers, Greenwald noted that "what makes claims from anonymous sources so especially dubious is that their motives cannot be assessed."

Ultimately, the journalist wrote that "most important of all, the more serious the claim is – and accusing a nuclear-armed power of directly and deliberately interfering in the US election in order to help the winning candidate is about as serious as a claim can get – the more important it is to demand evidence before believing it. Wars have started over far less serious claims than this one." 

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Accordingly, he suggested that the only rational approach would be to "wait to review the actual evidence before forming beliefs about what really happened. It should take little effort to realize that the latter option is the only rational path."

Following the publication of Greenwald's article, social media users supporting the Democratic Party's claims of Russian involvement exploded with criticism of the piece, going so far as to accuse The Intercept of being pro-Russian propaganda. Known for his witticisms, the journalist casually responded.

​Greenwald's critical take on the Washington Post and New York Times pieces has since been echoed by the President-elect's transition team. A brief statement by the Trump team to the Washington Post wryly commented that the CIA's anonymous claims about Russian involvement in the election were coming from "the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction." 

That statement quickly led to a Twitter war of its own, with people claiming to be critical of the CIA bizarrely jumping to its defense, with others patting Trump on the back for the comeback. 


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