A former FBI agent told the Senate Intelligence Committee to see the elephant in the room. (More)

“What nobody is really saying in this room”

Yesterday Senate Intelligence Committee member James Lankford asked why Russia meddled more than usual in the 2016 election, and former FBI Special Agent Clint Watts was ready with the answer:

The answer is very simple and it’s what nobody is really saying in this room. Which is, part of the reason active measures have worked in this U.S. election is because the Commander-in-Chief has used Russian active measures at times, against his opponents.

Watts cited two specific examples: an August 16, 2016 CNN interview where then-campaign chair Paul Manafort repeated Russian propaganda about a non-existent terrorist attack in Turkey, and an October 10 rally where the God-King himself spewed Russian propaganda about the 2012 Benghazi attack.

Watts continued:

[The God-King] denies the intel from the United States about Russia. He claims that the election could be rigged. That was the number one theme pushed by RT, Sputnik News… all the way up until the election. He’s made claims of voter fraud, that President Obama’s not a citizen… So, part of the reason active measures works, and it does today in terms of Trump Tower being wiretapped, is because they parrot the same line.

In short, Vladimir Putin knew he could rely on the God-King to push lies and conspiracy theories into mainstream news.

“I’m not sure it’s not Trump first, Russia second, and the rest of America third”

Watts also told the committee to “follow the trail of dead Russians” to uncover the links, and said he doubts the God-King would act to protect him if Russian agents targeted him:

My biggest concern right now is I don’t know what the American stance is on Russia, on who is going to take care of me. After years in the Army and the FBI, working in the intel community - today, I’m going to walk out of here and ain’t nobody going to be covering my back. I’m going to be on my own, and so that’s very disconcerting.

In a later interview with CNN, Watts added:

If I say things that the Trump administration doesn’t like or that counter to Putin, I’m not sure it’s not Trump first, Russia second, and the rest of America third.

I suspect Watts has the God-King’s priority list just about right.

“This past week we observed social-media accounts discrediting U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan”

Watts said Russia’s propaganda attacks did not end with the 2016 elections:

“This past week we observed social-media accounts discrediting U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan,” Clint Watts told the committee in a rare open hearing that leaders billed as a “primer” on Russian influence-peddling.

Watts, an expert in terrorism forecasting and Russian influence operations from the Foreign Policy Research Institute, also said he believes Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) “anecdotally suffered” from online Russian campaigns against him during his presidential bid.

Ryan’s office was not aware of an effort against him, according to a spokeswoman. Rubio said later Thursday that his campaign staff had been “targeted” twice “from an unknown location in Russia,” once in July 2016 and again at 10:45 a.m. Wednesday. Both attempts were unsuccessful, he added, without providing further details.

Among the more surprising revelations in yesterday’s hearings: the security chips on Congressional staffers’ ID badges are fake, according to IT expert Thomas Rid of King’s College London:

The badge “doesn’t actually have a proper chip. It has a picture of a chip,” Rid said. “It’s only to prevent chip envy. That tells you there’s a serious IT security problem.”

And Putin’s propaganda push began at least seven years ago:

The witnesses said Russia’s “active measures” date at least to 2009, when fake, Russian-owned social-media accounts began popping up online. Those accounts – meant to look as if they belong to Americans, pictures and all – amount to an easily deployable influence army critical to spreading Russian propaganda, the witnesses argued.

In 2014, they began to work on “influence campaigns” more intently, and by 2015 they had “tied hacking and influence together at the same time,” Watts said, specifically referring to the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and the later release of that information publicly.

In just March and April of 2016, Rid added, Russians targeted at least 109 full-time Hillary Clinton campaign staffers, as well as several DNC staffers.

It was damning testimony all ’round. House Republicans may be content to pick dust bunnies out of their navels, but it looks as if the Senate will do a real investigation. The kind we need.

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Photo Credit: Susan Walsh (AP)

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Good day and good nuts