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12 June 2017

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Dr.Puck

I'm waiting for the results of the full investigation of what the Russian government and its proxies demonstrably--this rooted to facts--did in an attempt to interfere with our election. Clapper's report is a preliminary finding in the context of what may become known in the future.

I'm unconcerned by whether or not Russia's effort was effective, (although I do note the preferred choice of the Russians did win the electoral college.) So far, a thin gruel has been served up.

This means PT we're agreeing to disagree? You do identify three elements that refute your headline.

I wonder if the Trump campaign's social media operation, led by Brad Parscale, located in San Antonio, and (at the time) leveraging Project Alamo, will be investigated by Mueller? It was the only really practical vector for coordination, imo.

David Habakkuk

TonyL,

I think some background is appropriate.

The former Soviet Union, and other communist countries, placed great stress on scientific and technical education. One result of this is that it was reported last December that in a competition for the ‘best universities in the world for learning to code’ the first, second and third institutions were in Russia, China and Vietnam respectively. The top US university, Berkeley, was fourth, while the sixth place went to another Russian university, and the seventh to one in Ukraine.

(See https://www.timeshighereducation.com/student/news/best-universities-world-learning-code#survey-answer .)

One effect is that there are eminently likely to be a vast number of capable hackers in these countries.

However, the question of the beliefs and political agendas of such hackers is likely to be a complex one. Back in Soviet days, it would have been eminently possible that many of the products of the Russian universities who are high in the rankings in that competition would have been extremely sceptical of their own government, and sympathetic to the West.

Unsurprisingly, if you have a system which encourages scientific education while basing its legitimacy on a pseudo-science, Marxism-Leninism, most of whose predictions turn out flat-out wrong, you end up with problems.

As the late great Moshe Lewin explained in the 2005 study ‘The Soviet Century’ in which he summarised his life work, as far back as 1968 Andropov submitted a report to the Politburo from an informant among Odessa students which dealt with ‘the total, abysmal failure of the whole party structure and its politico-ideological arsenal among the student body.’

In his summary of the report’s conclusions, Lewin noted that Andropov was told that ‘students’ preference for anything Western was scarcely surprising given their lack of respect for those whom they heard criticizing the West.’ While the ideological foundations of the system were collapsing however, the country ended up being ruled by – to quote Lewin again – a ‘deadlocked Politburo around a brain-dead Brezhnev’.

What resulted, when Gorbachev attempted to reform the system, was that power eventually fell into the hands of people whose hatred for the existing system made them extraordinarily naïve about the problems of emulating the successes of Western economies – and also unfortunately willing to accept the pretensions of Western academic ‘Fachidioten’ at face value.

Unfortunately, not only are very many Western economists grossly deluded about the extent to which one can explain things in terms of ‘rational choice’ theories, but they do not realise that ‘rational’ action is a matter of context. If the ‘invisible hand’ is to work in a relatively benign way, this presupposes legal frameworks which can regulate the ownership and exchange of property, and a functioning state which can enforce these. It also is of some help to have a culture of respect for law and private property.

Absent such things, ‘rational choice’ leads, quite naturally, to a kind of ‘plunder economy’. Those who were successful at appropriating the assets of the old Soviet system – above all, the oligarchs who effectively ruled Russia under Yeltsin – could not rely on a functioning state.

So not only people like Berezovsky and Khodorkovsky but also shadowy figures like Mogilevich who managed to get their tenacles into critical economic relations built their own private security and intelligence services. Moreover, quite rationally, oligarchs secured ‘krysha’ from unambiguously criminal organisations: Chechen mafiosi in the case of Berezovsky.

At the same time, consider what ‘rational choice’ means for members of the vast military, internal security and intelligence apparatus of what has justly been called a ‘counter-intelligence state’, when it is precipitately demobilised.

You have no job, no pension, no prospects – your government is now denouncing the system in which you were taught to believe. But you have very marketable skills. So if people like Berezovsky or Khodorkovsky, or indeed Mogilevich, are offering them jobs, a lot of highly competent people aren’t going to be too picky. And, likewise, one suspects a lot of highly skilled computer experts were recruited into private security and intelligence services.

The situation is then transformed by Putin’s reconstruction of the Russian state. What he does is to offer the oligarchs a deal. So long as they keep out of politics, and make some contribution – such as actually paying some taxes and not secreting all their wealth abroad – they can keep their plunder, and indeed have state protection for it.

These are terms to which Berezovsky and Khodorkovsky mount an overt challenge, and both end up losing – despite valiant efforts of Western security services on their behalf. And their effective expropriation makes it easier for Putin to insert his ‘siloviki’ associates into key positions in the economy. Turning them into quasi-oligarchs may, of course, have the advantage of ensuring their loyalty.

Those oligarchs who accepted Putin’s terms, at least overtly, prospered. How far they are all really reconciled to their loss of political power, and how far some of them may dream of regaining it, would seem an open question. Likewise, how far such people still maintain private security and intelligence systems seems an open question.

Moreover, when it was unclear who was going to win out, for very many people at different levels of the system, ‘rational choice’ commonly suggested that it was wise to keep one’s options open. A not surprising result has been a labyrinthine and extraordinarily Machiavellian politics, in which ‘information operations’ are commonly very difficult to unravel. For reasons I do not understand, this style of politics also seems to have spread to the West.

One consequence is that when hacking operations appear to come from Russia, it can be extraordinarily difficult to make sense of who is behind them.

It is, unfortunately, the case that Western policy since 1989 has gone a very great way to eliminating the reflexive pro-Western sentiment among large sections of the educated classes in Russia on which Andropov’s spies reported almost sixty years ago. Moreover, the argument for keeping one’s options open is very much weaker, because of the decisive nature of Putin’s victory over challengers.

However, the notion that competent hackers in Russia are all rallying monolithically behind the Putin’s agendas seems to me implausible. And this is all the more so, because the Russian ‘sistema’ is, patently, not monolithic.

Where actions are such as to have the potential to further undermine relations between Russia and the West, there are, in the nature of things, a whole range of possibilities. So, they could actions sponsored by Putin, as has been claimed in relation to the DNC hackings.

Likewise, they could be ‘false flags’ orchestrated by elements in Western intelligence agencies – or the surviving elements of the security apparatuses of anti-Putin oligarchs, or elements in Ukraine. My own very strong suspicion – based on what I can find out about figures like Dmitri Alperovitch and Matt Tait, and what I know about Christopher Steele – is that some combination of these elements have indeed orchestrated ‘false flags’ to cover up the fact that the DNC materials were leaked.

However, hackings could be orchestrated from Russia, but by elements either in the Russian government or outside it who think that Putin is much too concerned to try to maintain relations with the West. Equally, however, they could be Russian hackers acting on their own account – who may or may not like Putin.

(One can imagine a conversation which goes something like this: ‘It’s been a boring day in the office. Let’s see what Hillary Clinton is up to. In any case, we’re tired of those Lithuanians. Of course, nobody wants to invade them – who wants to pay for the old people’s homes? But we can have fun rotting up their computer systems. Our FSB contact told us to be cautious, but he’s a boring old fart.)

Fred

TonyL,

So the Russians convinced Donna Brazile and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz to rig the Democratic Primary? The Russians convinced Hilary and her campaign manager to blow through a billion dollars of campaign funds by spending it on all the usual democratic consultants, media companies and focus advertisements in all the usual places? Good thing Hilary isn't in office now, just imagine what those nefarious Russian and Chinese cyber operators would be convincing them of doing.

Mark Logan

PT,

I suspect the unwritten rule is propaganda is OK but messing around with vote counting isn't. The reports are the GRU conducted probes into the later. Should anyone be shocked if that did happen? Perhaps, but if so the shocked are automatically attributing that to Putin and/or the Russian leadership in general. Is it correct to suspect the Russians use the same sort we do in the hacking game? Kids. Twenty-something whiz-kids whose brilliance is only exceeded by their zeal and ignorance? Kids who to a degree intimidate their over-seers with their ability to prove a man an oaf with two lines of code?

I suppose these may appear to be rhetorical questions but they aren't.

Panos

Publius is correct. Someplace somewhere, someone is laughing with incredulity at this charade. What is almost certainly a frame-up of an investigation has morphed into a special counsel investigation concerning the obstruction of said frame-up. How does one obstruct a baseless investigation? There is no evidence Trump colluded with Russia.

Moreover, if the worse of Russia's transgression was leaking the all-too-well-known fact that Bill is still dicking bimbos, then we can all sleep comfortably (unless you're a bimbo).

As far as cyber spying and hacking goes, I'd more concerned about how a dozen spies enlisted by the CIA in China could have been murdered or imprisoned dating back seven years ago. That is a far graver matter.

ked

I think it helps to distiguish Deep State from Borg in this fashion; a DS is a hierarchical organization that exercises power in a nation-state such that it directs and executes state policy in a secretive manner that is opaque to its public. A Borg is a political-social-economic elite class having shared values and behaviors that collectively bound the range of acceptable discourse and decisions allowed in its nation. Or somthing like that, w/ apologies for sounding polisci-ish.
In a DS, there are formal rules & a "wiring diagram" (if secretive) of rulers to execute specific plans - a gang of sorts.
A Borg is an informal, evolving collective of influential players holding the same belief system that acts in concert to effectively define a nation's range of choices - a club of sorts.

David Habakkuk

IZ,

Thanks for that.

When I get a moment, I will read the Wikipedia pieces to which you link. Unfortunately, while Turkish politics turns out to be a critical element in a lot of puzzles, I am grossly ignorant about it.

What has been revealed about the Health Ministry report certainly makes it look as though it were part of an ‘information operation’ – and as you point out, particularly given the mess that tayyip has got himself into, anyone leaking the full text would be taking their life into their hands.

Whether the leadership of the OPCW can continue to justify in essence colluding in make accusations against the Syrian government, while suppressing the detailed evidence, including the autopsy results, we shall see.

If you do have any more information or thoughts on the Turkish angle of this affair, both I and I think a lot of others would be very interested.

Babak Makkinejad

One could only hope that there is a place called Hell somewhere and Yigor Gaidar is a denizens of its lowest level.

On the urge to destroy: many Iranian dissidents would do likewise; destroy Islam, Sharia, everything - as though 800 years of sitting on one's hands by one's ancestors could be overcome by the rapid destruction of the existing Traditions and Culture.

Worked very well during Reconstruction.

turcopolier

ked

I would agree with you that the DS (when extent) is hierarchical and easily depicted by a line an block chart. The Borg would best be described as you did and a visual would be something like a Venn diagram. pl

TonyL

David Habakkuk,

Thank you for your analysis. I would agree that "they could actions sponsored by Putin, as has been claimed in relation to the DNC hackings" or "they could be Russian hackers acting on their own account – who may or may not like Putin".


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