"BlueAnon: Glenn Greenwald on Why Russiagate Disinformation Never Ends"
By Aaron Maté, antiwar.com (May 2, 2021)
From The Grayzone:
On the same day that the claim of “Russian bounties” in Afghanistan collapsed, another US intelligence-sourced, evidence-free claim was treated as vindication for conspiracy theories about Trump-Russia collusion.
Glenn Greenwald and Aaron Maté discuss the predictable demise of the “Russian bounties”; the Biden administration’s new evidence-free assertion that Paul Manafort associate Konstantin Kilimnik passed Trump campaign polling data to Russia; and why major US media outlets continue to parrot Russiagate disinformation no matter how many times the “bombshells” turn into duds.
[0:30] Aaron Maté: "I wanted to start with the Afghan bounty story, the Russian bounty story in Afghanistan. Can't do a segment every time a Russia-gate story collapses because they would just take too much time. But this one I thought was particularly instructive and important. We heard all summer that Russia was putting bounties on US troops in Afghanistan. It was a constant obsession. [shows video clip of Rachel Maddow, Wolf Blitzer, "Reliable Sources" host, Joe Scarborough, and other CNN and MSNBC host -- along with several Democratic party politicians -- repeating allegations ...] And then recently it collapsed with the Biden administration saying that it has low to moderate confidence in that allegation. I'm just wondering if you can talk about the significance of this story; the consequences that it had on geopolitics, and what it tells us about how our our media handles claims like this."
[2:54] Glenn Greenwald: "So, the first thing that struck me about this story was the timing of it. And the second thing that struck me about it was the usage. You know, it was a fairly standard story. It was the New York Times citing anonymous intelligence officials making obviously an inflammatory claim. Standing alone you could just critique that by saying: 'Oh, look. The New York Times yet again is just passing along what intelligence officials tell them without showing evidence, without indicating they've seen any to believe it's true. They're just doing stenography work.' And as you said, if you were to devote yourself to every time that happens, you would do nothing else. But what made this particular story of such importance was the fact that it was published very shortly after Trump had announced his specific plan to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2020: Something he had been saying he was going to do for awhile, but he had just unveiled his plan."
[3:59] "And so, I can't prove that the reason that those people told The New York Times that this happened was to sabotage the withdrawal plan, but obviously they knew that that would be a predictable result. And what really drew my attention to it further was I watched the House Armed Services Committee hearing which I think took place in July where the $740 billion dollar budget for the year was approved. And the more important part -- because that approval was a foregone conclusion like it always is -- were the amendments that members of Congress tried to attach to the budget approval. And one of the primary ones was an amendment sponsored by leading pro-war Democrats who formed the majority on that committee, like Rueben Gallego and Jason Crowe and the chairman, Adam Smith, who are funded by Boeing and Raytheon, joined with Liz Cheney and the neocons to pass an amendment to defund any attempts to withdraw troops, not just from Afghanistan, but also from Germany. And one of the main arguments they used -- because it was only days before when the story was published was 'Oh, the Kremlin is now paying bounties on the lives of American servicemen and women and we can't leave Afghanistan because to do so would be to reward Putin for his treachery. So it played a major role in the effort of this bipartisan pro-war coalition to block withdrawal from Afghanistan. There was never any evidence for it and as you know, what's so notable is that the Biden administration has basically admitted [that] the CIA keeps saying 'We have moderate confidence' but the NSA is arguing vehemently against it. They're saying, 'Look, if this had happened, we have the Russians so covered in our digital surveillance that we would know about it, and we don't. So we have, actually, no confidence, or very low confidence that this is true. And they debunked their own story that came from the intelligence community, obviously once Trump was gone, but also when the Biden administration needed this story to go away because now Biden wants to withdraw from Afghanistan. And so you just see how easily they manipulate these journalists and the news cycle and the dissemination of information for their own ends, constantly. And I really put the blame on journalists who continue to launder whatever they say with those guys. You go back to that New York Times story and it didn't say it was true. It said that intelligence officials said it. But from there the entire press was off and running. You know, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal "confirmed" this story, meaning they talked to the same CIA people or the same sources."
[6:35] "And from there it became, you know, one cable segment after the next, outraged and indignant over this villianous Putin who would pay to kill American soldiers. It just became a proven fact in our discourse and it turns out that there's basically no evidence for it all along."
[6:56] Aaron Maté: "And even now -- I'm not sure if you saw this, but -- Charlie Savage who has done some incredible reporting in the past [GG: 'Many years ago'] he was one of the original reporters on this story. And I noticed over the summer that even as the conclusions of the NSA and other intelligence agencies -- like the Defense Intelligence Agency -- even as those were being leaked and they were saying that there was no evidence for any of this. Even back then there was an attempt by Charlie Savage and his colleagues at the time to downplay what the other intelligence agencies were saying and to parrot what the CIA was feeding them.
[Note from Wikipedia: Psittacism is speech or writing that appears mechanical or repetitive in the manner of a parrot. More generally it is a pejorative description of the use of words which appear to have been used without regard to their meaning.]
[7:28] Aaron Maté: "And even now, after the Biden administration takes the side of all the doubters who said there is no intelligence for this even now there's this effort by the Times and Charlie Savage to not acknowledge the flaws that were there from the start in their own reporting."
[7:43] Glenn Greenwald: "Yeah. Look, I made a joke about Charlie doing great reporting years ago. He won the Pulitzer, I think, in 2006 for his work on the effects of so-called signing statements by the Bush administration, basically to nullify laws enacted by Congress to limit what George could do in the War on Terror by basically saying, 'We won't.' I've known Charlie for a long time. I have respect for him as a reporter not just from back then but from recently as well. But I think that what happens is when you get so invested in a story like this you obviously want to defend it even when it ends up being debunked because it's embarrassing and you feel bad. And also there's an allegiance that you have to your sources. So whoever told him this obviously is continuing to tell him, 'No. This is actually, you know, a story for which there is corroborative evidence.' And I think the problem becomes that they get so close to their sources that they become basically the spokesman for those sources."
"But you know, also, Aaron, I think the other thing that happens is, you know, Charlie Savage, the New York Times, they know what they're doing. So they publish a story like this. And if you argue with Charlie about it, as I have done, publicly and privately, he'll say -- and I'm not going to say anything he said privately -- but publicly, he'll say, 'Look, we didn't do anything other than say the truth: that the CIA concluded that this happened. But he knew exactly what he was doing which is feeding into this anti-Trump frenzy and this narrative that Trump is controlled by Putin. And he watched the rest of the media, you know, talk about this as though it was proven fact and never once said: 'Hey, guys. Like, take a step back. We're not saying it's definitive. We're just saying the CIA concluded this.' Because that made his story more important. And so he, like, has washed his hands of responsibility for the fact that what was injected into our discourse was something that was never true. You know, from the beginning you had commanders on the ground in Afghanistan saying 'We haven't found any evidence that this has happened.'"
[shows video of General Milley testifying before Congress]
"I want to get specifically to the bounties. Specifically to the bounties. That is a unique, discrete piece of information that is not corroborated. You've all been briefed on it. I have, too. And I and the Secretary and many others are taking it serious. We're going to get to the bottom of it. We're toing to find out if, in fact, it is true.'
[10:07] Glenn Greenwald: "We haven't found any evidence that this is true. So there were reasons to doubt the story all along. And yet The New York Times continues even up to this very moment after the intelligence community has said there's only low to moderate confidence in insisting that they did nothing wrong."
[10:22] Aaron Maté: "And it's similar to how, before the election, when reporting on the Hunter Biden laptop was essentially blocked because some anonymous former officials said that it might be Russian disinformation. That story is still treated as an open question, and Hunter Biden is feeding that saying that even the U.S. intelligence community concluded that it was Russian disinformation. I wonder if you can talk about that and just the standard of evidence that has been established when it comes to labeling anything Russian and then what the media response to that is."
[10:54] Glenn Greenwald: "This played a really big role in leaving the Intercept and it got kind of overshadowed by the fact that obviously the precipitating cause was their refusal to publish my article analyzing the questions, the serious questions I believe had been raised by the Hunter Biden documents. But what really poisoned that entire process for me, at least, was that a week earlier the Intercept published an article by Jim Risen telling people to ignore the Hunter Biden story; that it should be viewed as a scam and a fraud. And one of the arguments, the main argument he cited in support of that view was the fact that there had been this letter issued by ex-CIA agents who hate Trump, like John Brennan, Michael Hayden, you know, the standard anti-Trump intelligence operatives who concocted Russiagate in the first place and have used their credentials to undermine Trump."
[11:53] "So, it wasn't just that the Intercept was telling me 'Your article does not meet our lofty editorial standards to be able to be published.' It was the fact that just a week earlier, on the same topic, they published utter shit. You know, total CIA propaganda claiming that the Hunter Biden document was quote "Russian disinformation" which contains two claims. One, that it comes from Russia, and number two, that the documents are fabricated, neither of which had any evidence at the time and both of which have been discredited now. And that also became the way that Facebook censored the story, the way Twitter justified suppressing the story, in the way media outlets justified not covering it was, look, it wasn't even an official intelligence agency. It was ex-CIA officials. And they even said in that letter, Aaron, that they issued, there were 50 of them or so saying we believe this is Russian disinformation. Even in that letter, they themselves admitted 'We have no evidence that it comes from Russia. Nor do we have evidence that it's disinformation. We just know Russia really well from all of our years working in the inteligence community and intuitively, on a gut level, this seems like the kind of thing that the Russians typically do.'"
[13:07] "And they were even more honest that the media outlets like The Intercept and many others because they admitted that there was no evidence for it. But when it ended up appearing in the Intercept and many other places, they omitted that part. They didn't say these intelligence agents say it's Russian disinformation but admit that they have no evidence for it which is what you would do if you were even a minimally honest or skeptical journalist. They just endorse this fabricated narrative that people should ignore the revelations of the Hunter Biden documents because it was Russian disinformation. And it was amazing for me to watch, after four years of falling on their faces over and over and over, repeating what the CIA told them to say about Russia that they would just do that. But they were so desperate. This was like two or three weeks before the election to make sure that nobody could accuse them of doing anything that might help Trump win, including doing their jobs by reporting negatively on Joe Biden. They were just looking for an excuse, any excuse, and the CIA gave them one and they grabbed it."
[14:12] Aaron Maté: "In your article about the Russian bounties you actually pointed out a brand new example of this on the exact same day that the Russian bounty story collapsed. So the Biden administration acknowledges that the Russian bounty story is basically false. On that same day, the Treasury Department puts out a press release. And there's one sentence where they claim that Konstantin Kilimnik, who was a starring character in the Russia-gate collusion fantasies -- I think, basically, because he's actually one of the few people in the Trump orbit who has a Russian passport -- but, anyway, the Treasury preferably says that they're sanctioning Kilimnik, and they claim, all of a sudden, something that Robert Mueller didn't claim and the Senate Intelligence Committe didn't claim:"
TREASURY TARGETS KNOWN RUSSIAN AGENT KONSTANTIN KILIMNIK
Konstantin Kilimnik is a Russian and Ukrainian political consultant and known Russian Intelligence Services agent implementing influence operations on their behalf. During the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Kilimnik provided the Russian Intelligence Services with sensitive information on polling and campaign strategy.
[15:03] Aaron Maté:"...that Kilimnik is a Russian Intelligence officer who passed polling data to the Russian Government supposedly for use in their sweeping and sophisticated interference campaign. Now, it's one sentence. There's no evidence. All of the efforts to invesgigate this claim before Mueller and the Senate produced no evidence and they acknowledged that in the reports. And the reports also has some evidence, but didn't focus on the fact tht Kilimnik is actually a valuable source for the West. He was a translator for Ukrainians and talking to U.S. officials in Ukraine. He provided information that was used by U.S. diplomats and he spoke often with them. All that was either ignored or downplayed. And there's a lot of countervailing information about Kilimnik that I've written about, and I'll be doing more soon."
[15:44] "But, anyway, regardless of the facts of him, this one sentence was then used as proof that all of the conspiracy theories about Trump-Russia collusion and specifically Kilimnik's role were true."
[15:53] [shows video clip of Rachel Maddow (MSNBC)]:
"The Trump campaign chairman gave a Russian intelligence officer the Trump campaign's internal strategy and polling data. That Russian intelligence officer then gave it to his bosses in the Russian intelligence agencies. And that, presumably, must have been very helpful to the Russian intelligence agencies in their concerted contemporaneous efforts to target their attacks on our election to the maximum benefit of candidate Donald Trump."
[16:22] [Then a video clip of Lawrence O'Donnell interviewing Congressman Adam Schiff]:
"The chain here is the Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy chairman are giving polling data and their strategy in the midwest to Kilimnik who the deputy chairman acknowledges they knew was a spy, they believed was a spy, and in fact as the Treasury department has acknowledged was a spy and was providing this to Russian intelligence. And not just Russian intelligence, but the same services that are involved in Trying to help Trump win in that election. That's what most people would call collusion."
[16:53] Glenn Greenwald: "Look, you know, Aaron. There aren't many people who have a lower opinion of establishment liberal journalists than I do. You may be one of them, although I think we're probably more or less at the same place with that. So it's very hard for them to do anything that shocks me in a negative way. But that did. The Treasury department called it a press release. They didn't even report that it was something more elevated. You know, they said it was a press release. They were announcing sanctions, and in passing to justify the sanctions they made this assertion about passing polling polling data to Russian intelligence officials that, as you say, an 18-month investigation with unlimited resources armed with subpoena power couldn't demonstrate."
[17:47] "I watched immediatly Journalists like Chris Hayes and many others see that press release and then, instantly treat it, that claim, as true. You know, Chris Hayes snidely went on twitter and said, Oh, yeah, there's no collusion. All that hapened is, you know, the Russians helped the Trump campaign and then Paul Manafort turned around and helped Russian intelligence agency through Kilimnik. Polling data."
[18:12] Glenn Greenwald: "... he [Chris Hayes] had no basis for saying that happened other than the fact that the Treasury Department, in a press release, asserted it in one sentence with no evidence. And yet his brain instantly told him he should treat that as true and, like, report it as though it had happened. How can you do that? How can you look at a government press release and encourage everybody to treat the assertion in it as being a proven fact when you haven't even seen any evidence for it and when an actual investigation turned up nothing? And you know, we're at the point where they have no standards. They are absolute partners to the US government and the intelligence agencies. If the intelligence agencies tell them that Donald Trump is being controlled by Martians hiding underground, they will instantly report that as true without needing any corroberation. They're just parrots for what these intelligence agencies tell them to think and say even to the point that even if they call it a press release and don't even purport to prove it, they'll just march forward and start talking about it like it was true."
[29:04] Aaron Maté:"... to escape. I think for all the disparaging of QAnon members, I think there is some psychological projection going on. I don't know if you have any thoughts on that "
[29:11] Glenn Greenwald: "No. I couldn't agree more. I mean, obviously, if you say to people in media that Rachel Maddow and Wolf Blitzer and Don Lemon and Joe Scarborough and Chris Hayes and Lawrence O'Donnell are the functional equialents of QAnon, they'll say that's absolutely crazy. QAnon believes these insane deranged conspiracy theories. [But] what is more deranged than the view that the Russians had seized control of the American government and the levers of power through sexual and financial blackmail over the President? It's like the kind of movie script that Hollywood would reject on the grounds that it's just too wildly ficticious to even try and convince people to pay attention for ninety minutes. And yet, that's what they've been peddling for the longest time. And the do so in a way that's much more deleterious because they have a larger audience than QAnon. They have the credibility of these corporate institutions that carry with it a certain respect and credibility in elite circles that obviously QAnon lacks."
[30:20] "But, you know, you're absolutely right about the psychological and cultural incentives. Like one of the benefits of QAnon is exactly what you said, which is that it gives people a sense of community and belonging at a time when citizens in the United States lack that more than ever before. There was -- even before the pandemic -- there were all these warning signs blinking red. Your father obviously has done amazing work on exactly this dynamic that modern society is not giving human beings what we need; what our brains are constructed to require -- like oxygen or water -- which is a sense of belonging, a sense of community. We're all atomized. We're all, you know, the secularization of western democracies means we don't have religion any longer. We don't have spirituality. We have no way to understand and navigate the universe [!!??] That's why, even before the pandemic, you had things like addiction and depression and anxiety disorders and suicide all radically increasing, and then you add on to that the pandemic where we constantly have the fear of death and sickness and we're isolated from one another more than ever before. And so, there is this craving to kind of have theories that give purpose and meaning. And conspiracy theories do that. It creates communities around which we can, you know, kind of bond with other people. And I absolutely think that's a big part of what explains QAnon. But I also think it's a big part of what explains the similar dependence on conspiracy theories and unified theories of purpose that these cable networks to great profit for themselves have been peddling as well."
[32:05] Aaron Maté: "And all these theories have the added benefit for the people who run this country of avoiding the real power centers. In the case of QAnon, it's whatever all their deranged conspiracy theories are. In the case of BlueAnon it's Russian oligarchs instead of US oligarchs. And that's why I think it helps explain its spread. Because actually it doesn't threaten anyone actually in power. And, really, the focus on all these insane conspiracy theories benefits people in power."
[32:35] Glenn Greenwald: "You Know, it's interesting that one of the reasons I talk about Chris or Rachel is that I've known them for a very long time. I've known them personally. I was on their shows a decade ago. I know exactly what their intellectual and journalistic trajectory has been. But, you know, even taking a step back from those individuals. If you look at liberal and left-wing journalism, for a long time it was focused primarily on things like the evil of the CIA, or the menace caused by concentrated wealth in Wall Street, or the Military Industrial Complex. You go look at any liberal digital outlet: Buzzfeed -- the kind of Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, Vox, Vice, Access -- or what journalists do who work at those liberal cable outlets: MSNBC, CNN, and you will find that they talk about those entities almost never. There is no reporting on any of those power centers because they don't regard them as malevolent. To the extent they talk about them, it's to disseminate their propaganda. It's to have John Brennan on and treat him as a wise Socrates who deciphers the world for us. Or they peddle CIA-manufactured stories like Hunter Biden's stock; your laptop is Russian disinformation; or the Russians have put bounties on the heads of American soldiers. That's the only time they pay attention to those power centers is to serve them and disseminate their propaganda."
[34:07 "They are obsessed, instead, with wild conspiracy theories and with depicting ordinary private citizens as the real enemies, as the real threats because of the wrong political views or wrong political ideologies they've embraced. And this transformation has been very rapid within liberal and even left-wing journalistic circles where they pay almost no attention any longer to actual power. And I think that you are absolutely right that the biggest beneficiaries of these obsessions on wild conspiracy theories and pee-tapes and Putin and all of that is that we don't pay attention to who wields power for real in the United States and how that power expresses itself and how it is concentated in the hands of a small number of people."