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Give a Dog a Bad Name. Why Is Russia Always Presumed Guilty?

I don’t think I’ve heard the old saying ‘Give a dog a bad name…’ for many years. The missing words were  ‘…and hang him’. It used to be common, a caution against prejudice. Maybe it’s been driven out of use by the seemingly universal belief in the rival maxim that ‘there’s no smoke without fire’, which most people who’ve tried to light fires on a wet camping expedition will know to be downright untrue. I think the expression ‘They can’t do that here’ has gone the same way. These days they *can* do that here, and they do.

It’s all part of the general disappearance of the presumption of innocence, not just in law but in life, an increasing belief that, whether the subject is climate change, foreign policy or paedophiles, how you feel is far more important than what you know -and that the authorities must know what they’re doing.

For instance, I get attacked here for being sceptical of claims made by spy organisations, as if this is disrespectful and even irreverent.  One of these days I really must review Graham Greene’s ‘Our Man in Havana’ here. If only more people had read this wonderful book, about the readiness of intelligent, serious people to be fooled when it suits them, we might have avoided British involvement in Iraq.

But people in politics and journalism need to be a bit more careful than that. Are we too inclined to act as if we know things we don’t know? Now, I don’t struggle to believe that Russian intelligence agencies may have hacked the US Democratic National Committee and leaked some of the results. Moscow cannot have been hoping for Hillary Clinton to win the Presidential Election.

But it is a long way from ‘they may very well have done it’ to ‘they did it’ and so far I have not seen anything resembling a *fact* ,. The CIA’s  supposed findings are ‘still-classified’ according to the International New York Times of today (12thDecember) pages 1 and 6. So we cannot study them.

Mr Trump’s jibe that the CIA are the same people who found WMDs in Iraq seemed justified to me. I had the same thought. Could the CIA, and such supporters as the ever warmongering Senator John McCain, possibly have a motive? Likewise, could the Washington Post and New York Times, which leaked various versions of the claim , have motives (both papers are Clintonist rather than Trumpoid, and the Post has for years been an especially keen supporter of the Syrian intervention that lies at the core of the current tension between Washington and Moscow)?

But the Post did not publish the CIA’s actual evidence of Russian hacking. It reported that the CIA ‘believed’ this to be so(by the way, there is a disagreement between the CIA and the FBI over the nature and extent of the hacking, the FBI doubting that the Republican National Committee was also hacked).

The New York Times says at one point ‘tracking the origin of cyberattacks is complicated’, which I should say is understatement, especially if the hacker is any good.  As for what is ‘known’, we learn that a hacking group ‘long associated’ with the Russian foreign intelligence agency FSB got into the DNC . Then in 2016 a group of Russian hackers ‘long associated’ with’ the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence organisation, got into the DNC again. Forgive me, but terms such as ‘a group of Russian hackers long associated with’ are a sign of the brakes being applied. Cut them out and see how much more confident the report would then be.  I might add that the GRU and the FSB loathe each other as much as rival intelligence organisations always do.

How did the CIA know these things? Or rather, why did they *believe* them?  ‘Malware used in the cyber-attack on the DNC matched tools previously used by hackers with proven ties to the Russian government’.

Well, let’s not be too difficult here, but wouldn’t sophisticated hackers be quite likely to put someone else’s signature on their activity, and be in a position to replicate it? Well, yes. In fact, I would imagine this is close to routine.

For it continued ‘That sort of “pattern analysis” is common in cyber-investigations, though it is not conclusive (my emphasis PH)’.

But the New York Times then said that the agencies had more, and had identified individuals from the GRU who oversaw the hacking efforts. This, we are told ’may have come from intercepted conversations, spying efforts or implants in computer systems that allow the tracking of emails and text messages’.

It also mentions a forgotten fact, that President Putin has long accused Hillary Clinton of interfering in Russia’s 2011 elections, which might be playing some part in all this.

Well, forgive me, but if they can reveal this much in unattributable briefings (which everyone knows came from them) what is stopping them giving a press conference or at least attending an open hearing of a Senate Committee, and, say, naming the GRU operatives? 

A lot of intelligence is about not letting the enemy know what you know about him. Well, that’s not an issue here any more, is it? Next comes the vital need to conceal your methods and protect your agents. The highest classifications in intelligence briefings are given to the material which reveals the *sources*. This newspaper briefing pretty much reveals those sources. So what is there to lose in making a specific allegation against specific individuals. I’m not saying I don’t believe it. I am inclined to do so.  I just think we should stop treating it as fact until we know it is one

But there’s a much more serious charge being levelled against Russia, that of being guilty of deliberate atrocities and war-crimes in Syria.

In Foreign Secretary Alexander ‘Boris’ Johnson’s recent (Friday 9 November) speech at the ‘Manama Dialogue’ in Bahrain:

... the following words appear (Note the pedantic Foreign Office spelling of ‘Assad’,as everyone else calls him): ‘It may very well be true that after months of barbaric bombing Bashar al-Asad and his Russian and Iranian sponsors are on the point of capturing the last of rebel-held Aleppo – perhaps within a matter of days, we can’t know. But if and when that happens it will assuredly be a victory that turns to ashes, it is but a Pyrrhic victory.

‘Remember that two thirds of Syria is currently outside Asad’s control, and that he is still besieging 30 other areas containing 571,000 tormented inhabitants. Surely to goodness, there can be no lasting peace in Syria, if that peace is simply re-imposed by a man who has engendered such hatred among millions of his own people.’

Well, first of all, let’s just mention some undoubted barbarism about which Mr Johnson, speaking in Bahrain,  was tactfully silent. Dialogue is not always welcome in Bahrain, it would seem:

And then let’s ask:  Why does he describe this particular bombing, of Aleppo by Russia and Syria,  as ‘barbaric’? Is our Foreign Secretary a pacifist?  I do not think so. In what important way does Russian bombing of Aleppo differ from the bombings of Fallujah and Mosul, where Islamist fanatics have been bombed by Western planes (ours included, I believe), and where our one-time ally, Nouri el-Maliki of Iraq, used ‘barrel bombs’ (why are these so much worse than any other kinds of bomb? No bomb is nice) on ‘his own people’ in Fallujah? I hesitate even to mention the British bombing of Libya, in which civilians died as a result of our crazed decision to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi and replace him with flaming anarchy, which still persists.

But I will

The point is that aerial warfare can be relied upon to produce some horrible effects. Unless we can *prove* that Russia and Syria *deliberately* targeted aid convoys schools and hospitals (and I have seen no such proof) how can we say this this was so?  

As for the allegations that Assad ( or 'Asad')has used gas against ‘his own people’ , they remain just that -vallegations. I sought very hard for details of the charges, and evidence of gas use,  and have never found anything which establishes that Assad did this thing. It has always seemed to me that it would have been raving mad for him to do so, since it gained nothing significant but it was the one action which would have licensed the USA to unleash air power against him, and that was the one thing that could, at that stage of the war, have ensured his defeat.

Mr Johnson got something of a pasting from Andrew Marr on Sunday 4th December, on Britain’s undoubted involvement in Saudi Arabia’s very bloody little war in Yemen, in which there have been a number of rather unfortunate civilian casualties, though nobody says the Saudis are doing this deliberately.

And interestingly it is generally assumed that it is this rather poorly-reported Yemen conflict that he was referring to in his now-famous contribution to the Med2 Group, in Rome, which you may watch in a rather poorly synchronised film here

Mr Johnson first begins speaking at about 19 minutes in. He then starts again (this is the important bit about proxy wars) at about  46 minutes (though you can’t see him to begin with) I have tried and so far failed to obtain a text of this, which seems to have been off the cuff rather than scripted. The Guardian, which broke the story, reported it thus (it has its own video)

But Mr Johnson cannot have been referring to Yemen. Yemen is not a ‘proxy’ war by Saudi Arabia. Saudi forces are directly involved, and this is not disputed.

The proxy war is in Syria. If Mr Johnson thinks it barbaric in general, he knows who to talk to. If he has specific allegations against Russia, I should be interested to hear them.

Source: Mail Online
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