By: Cliff Kincaid | Accuracy in Media
The CIA and its media allies have thrown everything but the proverbial kitchen sink at President Donald J. Trump. Media bias, anonymous sources, and intelligence “garbage” have been on display. But the 25-page Intelligence Community report on alleged Russian hacking activities deserves special consideration, since a significant part of it relied on analysts hard at work watching broadcasts of Russia Today (RT) television. You wouldn’t know it by reading the report, but RT has historically been a mouthpiece of “progressives” favorable to the Democratic Party. Indeed, the Obama administration saw RT in the past as part of the “progressive” media organizations supporting left-wing causes.
Not only that, but RT was useful in disrupting the 2012 Republican presidential primary. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) dismissed my well-documented 2012 complaint about RT’s open support for libertarian Ron Paul and his pro-Russia views. We cited evidence that RT was funded by the Kremlin and prohibited under law from intervening in U.S. elections. The FEC dismissed the complaint, saying RT was a legitimate press entity and a U.S. corporation with First Amendment rights.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which supposedly monitors extremists, found nothing objectionable about RT when its own “Intelligence Report” Editor Mark Potok appeared on the April 26, 2010 edition of Russia Today’s “CrossTalk” program to discuss the rise of “right-wing” groups and so-called “Christian militias.” That was at a time when RT was seen as an important “progressive” outlet.
The Obama administration’s official concern about RT and other Russian activities came late, after years of inaction on complaints from Accuracy in Media and others about RT propaganda activities. The Russians suddenly became scapegoats for the loss of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. This new-found interest in the influence of the channel was a tip-off that the left-wing complaints about RT echoed in the Intelligence Community report are not to be taken seriously.
What should be cause for concern are the agents of influence in the media who disguise their CIA contacts as anonymous sources and were part of an intelligence community (IC) effort to discredit President Trump.
Who was Putin’s Candidate?
Looking at the election objectively, it is possible to say that Russian leader Vladimir Putin may have had a personal vendetta against the former U.S. secretary of state for some reason, stemming from allegations of U.S. meddling in Russian internal affairs. On the other hand, Putin may have preferred that Clinton become the U.S. president because her failed Russian “reset” had facilitated Russian military intervention in Ukraine and Syria, and he believed he could continue to take advantage of her.
In addition to the expansion under the Russian reset, the Russians obtained favored nation trading status under President Obama, giving them access to U.S. capital, and New START, a nuclear weapons agreement giving Moscow a strategic advantage.
Historically, the Russians have always found the Democrats to be friendlier to their global ambitions. Professor Paul Kengor broke a story on how “the liberals’ lover-boy,” Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), had “reached out to Victor Chebrikov at the KGB and Yuri Andropov at the Kremlin” to work against President Ronald Reagan.
One FBI memorandum examined “contacts between representatives of the Soviet Union and members of staff personnel of the United States Congress,” and listed several senators, including Ted Kennedy and George McGovern of South Dakota, the Democratic presidential candidate in 1972. Another was Walter Mondale of Minnesota, President Jimmy Carter’s vice president, who ran against President Reagan in 1984.
Our anti-Trump media accepted the January 6 report, “Declassified Intelligence Community Assessment of Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections,” because it was designed to convey the impression that Trump was favored by the Russians.
Such a charge was welcomed by the liberal media, in particular because it allowed them to divert attention away from the substance of the WikiLeaks revelations that showed how major journalists worked hand-in-glove with Hillary Clinton-for-president staffers. These disclosures were in emails hacked from the account of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and the Democratic National Committee. Yet, the IC report says that WikiLeaks, an alleged Russian agent, disseminated truthful information. “Disclosures through WikiLeaks did not contain any evident forgeries,” the report says.
This is quite a turnaround for the Russians. In the past the Russians would alter or forge documents to make people look bad. This time, the Russians revealed the truth. For this reason, AIM published the article, “Thank you Vladimir Putin.” Of course, the Russians do not provide accurate and truthful information to their own people and they conduct propaganda and disinformation campaigns targeting foreign audiences. Their alleged illegal hacking into the private accounts of Americans cannot be justified. But Podesta and other Democrats can be criticized for failing to safeguard their own information and virtually inviting foreign hacking.
Russian intentions in allegedly providing the emails to WikiLeaks are a subject worthy of attention. But the conclusion that the Russians favored Trump over Clinton cannot be sustained by the evidence in the report. The IC report fails miserably in articulating how the Russians use dialectical maneuvers in playing both sides of the political street in the U.S.
RT’s Intervention in 2012
One of the glaring omissions in the report on Russian interference in “recent elections” is the failure to address the evidence that RT television was giving enormously favorable coverage in the 2012 presidential campaign to then-Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), a libertarian with pro-Russia views on foreign policy. He ran in the Republican presidential primary.
One RT show featured libertarian host Adam Kokesh endorsing Paul and highlighting a “money bomb” fundraising campaign for him. Some political observers at the time believed that Paul’s campaign had the potential to undermine the Republican Party as it went into the 2012 campaign, and thereby help guarantee Obama’s re-election.
Of course, Obama won that election, after dismissing his Republican opponent Mitt Romney’s claim that Russia was a geopolitical threat to the United States. Obama had been caught on an open mic before the election promising to be “flexible” in changing his positions to benefit Russia. These comments provide more evidence that Obama was never the anti-Russian figure he postured as in the final days of his second term.
In understanding Russian motives and intentions, seven pages of the new IC report are devoted to RT television being a front for the Russian government. We’ve published dozens of stories over the years about RT’s service to the Moscow regime. So why didn’t the Obama Justice Department act on TV producer Jerry Kenney’s complaint that RT should register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) and be labeled as foreign propaganda? That’s what the law requires.
This wasn’t the only documented case of Obama administration inaction on the Russian threat at that time. Kenney had alleged violations of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules that had given foreign broadcasters such as RT access to taxpayer-funded public television stations. The FCC dropped the complaint when the TV stations amended their contract with MHz Networks, the distributor of RT, to allow the station to preempt the foreign programming.
The evidence is clear: Obama’s various federal agencies, including the Department of Justice, the FCC and the FEC, refused to take any direct action against RT over the years when it was engaging in anti-Republican activities and supporting the progressive movement. But when they saw they could use RT as a weapon against Trump, they suddenly became concerned about foreign interference in the U.S. political process.
RT Backed Bernie
Although the IC report insists that the Russians had a “preference” for Donald J. Trump for president, we noted back in August of 2015 that RT’s Thom Hartmann, a leading American progressive, was backing “Bolshevik Bernie” Sanders for president. In 2016 Sanders appeared on RT with new RT hire, Ed Schultz, formerly of MSNBC.
Yet the intelligence community report makes no mention of RT programs backing Sanders, whose Russian connections included visiting the Soviet Union on his honeymoon. Sanders was a fellow traveler of the Moscow-controlled U.S. Peace Council.
The focus on Trump runs counter to the stated purpose of the report and reflects the political bias therein. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) says that “On December 9, 2016, President Barack Obama directed the Intelligence Community to conduct a full review and produce a comprehensive intelligence report assessing Russian activities and intentions in recent U.S. elections.” (emphasis added). Yet, nothing is said about RT’s involvement in the 2012 contest that Obama won.
The U.S. IC is described as “a coalition of 17 agencies and organizations, including the ODNI,” but only three were involved in the report. They were the CIA, FBI and NSA. It is generally believed that CIA Director John Brennan was the guiding force behind the Obama administration effort to blame the Russians for Trump’s election victory. Former CIA officials Michael Morell, Michael Hayden and Philip Mudd had all denounced Trump. Former CIA operations officer Evan McMullin even ran against Trump as an independent presidential candidate.
It certainly looks as if the CIA interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Perhaps blaming the Russians was an attempt to get the attention off the agency.
Brennan was accused of converting to Islam when he was stationed in Saudi Arabia. His CIA under Obama’s orders directed the shipment of arms to jihadist groups in the Middle East. At a congressional panel on diversity in hiring, he admitted voting Communist when he was in college.
His focus at the agency has been on hiring people with “diverse” backgrounds, such as transgenders, and he even signed a policy document on a “Diversity and Inclusion Strategy” for the years 2016 to 2019, beyond his tenure as director.
Rather than go down in history with a reputation for defending America, The Wall Street Journal reports that Brennan “would prefer his legacy be the way he fought to nurture a workforce that reflected America’s diversity.” The Journal added, “During his tenure he has put particular emphasis on promoting the interests of gay, lesbian, and transgender officers. He was the first CIA director to attend an annual social gathering of LGBTQ employees and has been known to wear a rainbow lanyard around the office as a symbol of solidarity.”
It looks like the focus on “diversity” in hiring has taken precedence over getting the facts right about foreign threats. Indeed, some observers, such as former FBI agent John Guandolo, have suggested that President Trump should abolish and replace the CIA with a new organization. “In 15 years they haven’t gotten a strategic analysis of the threat right—yet,” he told me in a recent interview.
Partners in Crime
The CIA will have to answer to its new director, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS), Trump’s pick to run the agency.
But the media have a lot to answer for as well. If WikiLeaks has suddenly became a Russian front or conduit, why are American news organizations such as The New York Times and The Washington Post still included among the “partners” with WikiLeaks in distributing its information? Other partners include the British Guardian, The Intercept, The Nation, McClatchy, The Wall Street Journal, and, of course, RT.
If WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is a Russian agent, why did major U.S. media organizations partner with him? Why did they not investigate him at that time? One of my groups did so, publishing the report, “Julian Assange: Whistleblower or Spy for Moscow?” At that time, Assange was considered a courageous whistleblower by the liberal press. They hailed WikiLeaks for releasing the classified documents that were stolen by Army intelligence analyst Bradley/Chelsea Manning, whose sentence for espionage has been shortened by Obama.
In addition to these issues and questions, some parts of the report lend themselves to a far different interpretation of Russian motives in U.S. politics.
For example, the IC report notes that RT ran a story against fracking, a technique that has sparked U.S. oil and gas production. The report says, “RT runs anti-fracking programming, highlighting environmental issues and the impacts on public health. This is likely reflective of the Russian Government’s concern about the impact of fracking and US natural gas production on the global energy market and the potential challenges to Gazprom’s profitability.”
The 2016 Democratic Party platform is highly critical of fracking. So does this mean the Democrats are doing the bidding of Putin? The progressive movement is almost completely against fracking. Does that mean that the progressives are puppets of Putin?
Consider this exchange between Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Director of Intelligence James Clapper:
Cotton: There’s a widespread assumption, this has been expressed by Secretary Clinton herself since the election, that Vladimir Putin favored Donald Trump in this election. Donald Trump has proposed to increase our defense budget to accelerate nuclear modernization, to accelerate ballistic missile defenses, and to expand and accelerate oil and gas production which would obviously harm Russia’s economy. Hillary Clinton opposed or at least was not as enthusiastic about all those measures. Would each of those put the United States in a stronger strategic position against Russia?
Clapper: Currently, anything we do to enhance our military capabilities, absolutely.
Cotton: There is some contrary evidence, despite what the media speculates, that perhaps Donald Trump is not the best candidate for Russia.
By this objective measure of actual policies, Trump will prove to be more harmful to Russia than Hillary Clinton could ever hope to be.
The report notes that RT ran stories promoting the Occupy Wall Street movement. It says, “RT framed the movement as a fight against ‘the ruling class’ and described the current US political system as corrupt and dominated by corporations. RT advertising for the documentary featured Occupy movement calls to ‘take back’ the government. The documentary claimed that the US system cannot be changed democratically, but only through ‘revolution.’ After the 6 November US presidential election, RT aired a documentary called ‘Cultures of Protest,’ about active and often violent political resistance.”
We had noted RT’s favorable coverage of the Occupy movement. Of course, Occupy Wall Street was a left-wing political movement aligned with the progressives and even encouraged by President Obama. So does this mean that Obama was doing the bidding of the Russians?
RT Evades U.S. Law
The IC report explains how RT bypassed American laws such as the Foreign Agents Registration Act “by using a Moscow-based autonomous nonprofit organization to finance its US operations.” The report goes on, “According to RT’s leadership, this structure was set up to avoid the Foreign Agents Registration Act and to facilitate licensing abroad. In addition, RT rebranded itself in 2008 to deemphasize its Russian origin.” Still, the financing for the channel comes from the Russian government, the report says.
So RT is, and has been, a foreign state-funded entity that should be subject to federal oversight from agencies such as the Department of Justice, the FCC, and the FEC. Yet, only now, after Hillary Clinton has lost the presidential election, has the IC been ordered to release a public report on what the Russian channel has been doing in U.S. elections.
The only thing that has changed over the years is that RT is now somehow considered to be a factor in Hillary Clinton’s defeat.
“RT hires or makes contractual agreements with Westerners with views that fit its agenda and airs them on RT,” the report says. Of course, we’ve documented this for years. However, RT hosts like Thom Hartmann and Ed Schultz are not Trump supporters or conservatives. They are progressives.
Over the years, the liberal media have treated Hartmann and Schultz as progressive heroes. A Politico article from 2013, “Thom Hartmann: View from the left,” didn’t even mention his work for RT.
Hartmann claims editorial control over his own show. But since the IC report says RT hires people whose views “fit” their agenda, a quick look at Hartmann’s RT website is worthwhile. It suggests that the Russians are interested in issues such as saving Obamacare and how the Trump presidency could bring on an economic crash.
Bashing Conservatives, RT-Style
It seems that RT has suddenly reverted to its anti-conservative style of coverage. Guests on Hartmann’s RT program come from the left and right, but mostly from the left. They have recently included:
- Trita Parsi, founder and president of the National Iranian American Council
- Author Max Blumenthal
- Media analyst and critic Jeff Cohen
- Terry Tamminen, CEO of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation
- Chris Lewis of Public Knowledge
- Alex Lawson of Social Security Works and Valerie Ervin of the Working Families Party
- Democracy Spring Director Kai Newkirk and Sarah Badawi of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee
Years ago I had the opportunity to ask Hartmann face-to-face about his acceptance of Russian rubles to do his show. He tried to grab my camera to prevent me from taping his response.
If the liberal media are now truly concerned about Russian influence in the U.S. political process, rather than just using the issue as a weapon against Trump, they should take a look at Hartmann and his comrades on RT and review their own “partner” relationship with Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.
After this review is complete, they should take another look at the IC report and determine why and how agencies like the CIA became adjuncts of the Democratic Party with a partisan bias against the new Republican president.
Since we know that the media and the Democrats work hand-in-glove, perhaps it’s time to investigate the CIA’s relationship with the media.
Cliff Kincaid is the Director of the AIM Center for Investigative Journalism and can be contacted at [email protected]. View the complete archives from Cliff Kincaid.