CIA

Why the FBI could not see Russia from our House

The Washington Post published an article December 10th entitled, “FBI and CIA give differing accounts to lawmakers on Russia’s motives in 2016 hacks.”  It describes how the intelligence agencies that make up the CIA have come tcia-fbio a consensus: Russia was interfering with the election in order to help Trump win.  The FBI has been uncomfortable drawing the same conclusion.  The Post explains this difference, in part, as the product of the different professional cultures in the CIA and the FBI and the different standards of evidence they use.

On December 16th, six days later, The Washington Post published an article entitled, “The FBI backs CIA view that Russia Helped Trump win election.”  This essay evaluates the arguments provided by the FBI and the CIA and considers additional motivations for the differences between them and the differences in the FBI’s different positions.  The thesis is the FBI has viewed the issue from perspectives that are influenced by political considerations and this has led them to overlook the significance of the ties between Russia and Trump.

On December 10th the Post described the differences between the CIA and FBI as being obvious.

During an … Intelligence Committee briefing …, the CIA’s statements … were “direct and bald and unqualified” about Russia’s intentions to help Trump, according to one of the officials who attended the House briefing.

The FBI provided lawmakers a different picture.

The FBI official’s remarks to the lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee were, in comparison, “fuzzy” and “ambiguous,” suggesting to those in the room that the bureau and the agency weren’t on the same page, the official said.

The major difference in the picture provided by the CIA and the FBI is that the CIA was willing to be clear that Russia intended to help Trump win.  The FBI was unwilling to agree with the CIA on that point: they are still not sure Russia was helping Trump.

The FBI’s View

Let’s explore the FBI’s argument further and then compare it with the argument made by the CIA.  The FBI acknowledges the Russian’s interfered with the election. The Post reports that one FBI official was willing to acknowledge this interference has been “one way.”

The FBI is not sold on the idea that Russia had a particular aim in its meddling. “There’s no question that [the Russians’] efforts went one way, but it’s not clear that they have a specific goal or mix of related goals,” said one U.S. official.

By “one way” the official is referring to the fact that the Russians hacked into both the DNC and the RNC email data bases, but the vast majority of the damaging emails they leaked were only from the DNC data base.  The emails from the Democratic party were also leaked in a periodic way that was damaging, rather than all at once.  The Chair of the DNC had to resign because of the leaked emails.  There were no damaging emails leaked about the RNC during the campaign.  This “one way” nature of the interference is one of the primary characteristics of the evidence that has led the U.S. intelligence community to the “consensus view” that Russia was trying to help Trump.

Republicans and the FBI do not see this “one way” nature of the evidence as demonstrating anything decisively about the intent of the Russians.  Some try to deny the RNC computers were hacked.  Reince Priebus did this on the Meet the Press on December 11th.  The problem here is that the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee stated clearly on CNN that the RNC had been hacked by the Russians.

Representative Michael McCaul, the Texas Republican who is the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said on CNN in September that the R.N.C. had been hacked by Russia, but then quickly withdrew the claim.

Mr. McCaul, who was considered by Mr. Trump for secretary of Homeland Security, initially told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, “It’s important to note, Wolf, that they have not only hacked into the D.N.C. but also into the R.N.C.” He added that “the Russians have basically hacked into both parties at the national level, and that gives us all concern about what their motivations are.”

The Associated Press reported on December 11th that,

The FBI told the Illinois Republican Party months before the presidential election that its email accounts may have been hacked, and party officials later found some of its emails on a website reportedly tied to Russia’s military intelligence agency, the state GOP’s executive director said Sunday.

So denying the Republican Party’s computer systems were hacked by the Russians is not going to be promising line of argument.  The FBI and republicans are going to have to grant that the Russians hacked into “both parties at the national level” and they only leaked the emails in a manner that would damage one party: the Democrats.

The behavior demonstrated by these Republican officials who are denying something a republican official stated on CNN also has to serve as evidence.  This is unusual behavior and we discussing a national security issue: whether a foreign power is attempting to undermine our democracy.

Some Republicans support the stance of the FBI.  They provide some other possible motives for the Russian’s behavior.  The Post reports,

Many of the Republican lawmakers welcomed the FBI’s caution. They didn’t think the CIA had a basis for coming to the conclusions presented to the Senate panel. Some of the Republicans on the House side thought it would have been more logical for the CIA to conclude that Russia preferred Clinton because she was a known commodity and because Trump talked during the campaign of expanding the U.S. military, something Russia might interpret as a threat, according to officials.

Here we find two suggestions for why the Russians might have preferred Clinton to win: She is a “known commodity”; Trump talked about expanding the military.  This idea that Clinton is a known commodity and that might appeal to the Russian’s was echoed by Dmitry Gorenburg, a senior research scientist at CNA, a think tank.  He has suggested Trump can be unpredictable and that might not appeal to Putin.

The FBI frames its own argument in a unique fashion.  On October 31st the New York Times reported that FBI officials said investigators,

have become increasingly confident, based on the evidence they have uncovered, that Russia’s direct goal is not to support the election of Mr. Trump, as many Democrats have asserted, but rather to disrupt the integrity of the political system and undermine America’s standing in the world more broadly(3).

The first point we can draw from this explanation is that FBI officials have not tried to claim the Russians were attempting to help Clinton win.  Those republicans who do are confronted with a problem.  Once we acknowledge the evidence of the “one way” nature of leaked emails that damaged the democratic party, it is not clear how this behavior could be interpreted as being consistent with an effort to help Clinton win.  If helping Clinton was the intention of the Russians, they would have leaked damaging emails from the RNC that forced Reince Priebus to step down.

The FBI’s argument can then be summarized as follows.  cia-vs-fbi

  1. The Russians hacked the data bases of both the DNC and the RNC and other leading politicians.
  2. They leaked emails in a manner that damaged the Democratic party.
  3. This was either done to help Trump win or to undermine America’s political system and its standing in the world.
  4. It was done to undermine America’s political system.

Before we consider the CIA’s argument, there is one component of the FBI’s argument we should review critically: the third claim made in the argument.

The FBI assumes either the Russians were helping Trump win or they were trying to undermine America’s political system and its standing in the world.  The FBI therefore assumes that helping Trump become president will not, itself, “disrupt the integrity of the political system and undermine America’s standing in the world more broadly.”  Consider this assumption carefully.  Trump is a reality TV star.  He has bragged about sexually assaulting women in a video that has gone public.  His businesses have repeatedly gone bankrupt.  He has been repeatedly sued for fraudulent business practices.  He has embraced political views that are in sharp contrast with the views in both parties.  He has talked openly about: allowing Russia to annex Crimea; weakening NATO; reducing or removing the sanctions on Russia.  The FBI was unable to see how getting Trump elected could “disrupt the integrity of the political system and undermine America’s standing in the world more broadly.”

This assumption that helping Trump get elected would not “disrupt the integrity of the political system and undermine America’s standing in the world” is a political assumption that has fundamentally shaped the FBI’s view of Russia’s role in the election.  It has led the FBI to employ a form of thinking called a false dilemma:  unjustifiably limiting the alternatives.  They do not consider the possibility the Russians helped Trump win in order to disrupt the integrity of the political system and undermine America’s standing in the world.  They apparently do not consider the possibility that Russia helped Trump win in order allow them to keep the Crimea and to remove the economic sanctions that have been placed on them.  Why would the FBI not consider these possibilities?

The Guardian reported on November 4th,

The currently serving FBI agent said Clinton is “the antichrist personified to a large swath of FBI personnel,” and that “the reason why they’re leaking is they’re pro-Trump.”

The agent called the bureau “Trumplandia”, with some colleagues openly discussing voting for a GOP nominee who has garnered unprecedented condemnation from the party’s national security wing and who has pledged to jail Clinton if elected.

The false dilemma used by FBI officials removes one of the possible alternatives that describes the Russians helping Trump.  This false dilemma is therefore consistent with the political views that current FBI agents describe as being common in the FBI.  It is one of the fundamental flaws of the FBI’s argument.

a. F.B.I. Updates Argument

The FBI reported that its argument had been updated on December 10th in an article in The New York Times entitled, “C.I.A. Judgement on Russia Built on Swell of Evidence.”  Mark Mazzetti and Eric Lichtblau report that,

A senior American law enforcement official said the F.B.I. believed that the Russians probably had a combination of goals, including damaging Mrs. Clinton and undermining American democratic institutions. Whether one of those goals was to install Mr. Trump remains unclear to the F.B.I., he said.

We can see here that the framing of the alternatives is different from the way the F.B.I. described them on October 31st.  This summary does not use the false dilemma described earlier.

This official states the F.B.I. believed one of the goals of the Russians was to damage Clinton.  This is consistent with the “one way” nature of the Russians use of the information they hacked.  This brings the position of the F.B.I. very close to that of the C.I.A.: the F.B.I. thinks the Russians tried to hurt Clinton; the C.I.A. thinks the Russians tried to help Trump.  What are we arguing about here?

The article does not describe the evidence the F.B.I. used to come to the conclusion it was clear the Russians were trying to damage Clinton but it was “unclear” they were trying to install Trump.  One could argue the best way to install Trump is to damage Clinton.  Therefore evidence the Russians are damaging Clinton is indistinguishable from evidence they are helping install Trump.  Since the F.B.I.’s initial formulation of the alternatives was based on a false dilemma, we have good reason to be suspicious of this purported distinction they now see between damaging Clinton and helping Trump.

We also have no explanation for why FBI officials were unable to clearly report to lawmakers that it is probable that one of the goals of the Russians was to damage Clinton.  Instead they were “fuzzy” and “ambiguous.”  They went out of their way to give the impression to “those in the room that the bureau and the agency weren’t on the same page.”  We have no explanation for why they did this if the only difference between the FBI’s position and the CIA’s position is that the FBI thinks Russia probably tried to damage Clinton and the FBI thought Russia probably tried to help Trump.

This is a summary of the F.B.I.’s updated argument:

  1. The Russians hacked the data bases of both the DNC and the RNC and other leading politicians.
  2. They leaked emails in a manner that damaged the Democratic party.
  3. It was done to undermine Hillary Clinton and democratic institutions.

b. The FBI Updates Argument Again

On December 16th The Washington Post reported,

FBI Director James B. Comey and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. have backed a CIA assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election in part to help Donald Trump win the presidency, according to U.S. officials.

Comey’s support for the CIA’s conclusion suggests that the leaders of the three agencies are in agreement on Russian intentions, contrary to suggestions by some lawmakers that the FBI disagreed with the CIA….

A separate House intelligence briefing by a senior FBI counterintelligence official last week left some Republican and Democratic lawmakers with the impression that the bureau wasn’t on the same page as the CIA, according to officials present.

“The truth is they were never all that different in the first place,” an official said of the FBI and CIA positions.

As mentioned, it was not clear what evidence FBI officials were using to conclude in the December 10th article that the Russians intended to damage Clinton but not to help Trump.  The “truth is” the FBI’s position was never “that different” from the CIA’s position.  The question then becomes, why did FBI official’s give lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee suggest “to those in the room that the bureau and the agency weren’t on the same page”?

The CIA’s View

The argument of the national intelligence agencies is based on the evidence they have that the Russian’s hacked the computer systems of the Republican National Committee as well as the Democratic National Committee, but they only released information from the DNC.  The New York Times reports,

American intelligence agencies have concluded with “high confidence” that Russia acted covertly in the latter stages of the presidential campaign to harm Hillary Clinton’s chances and promote Donald J. Trump, according to senior administration officials.

They based that conclusion, in part, on another finding — which they say was also reached with high confidence — that the Russians hacked the Republican National Committee’s computer systems in addition to their attacks on Democratic organizations, but did not release whatever information they gleaned from the Republican networks.

The “one way” nature of the leak of the information provides evidence of the Russian’s intentions according to the CIA.

The intelligence agencies have also identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided Wikileaks with thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and other party officials.  The Washington Post reports,

Intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and others, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, according to U.S. officials. Those officials described the individuals as actors known to the intelligence community and part of a wider Russian operation to boost Trump and hurt Clinton’s chances.

The intelligence agencies therefore believe they know how the emails went from the Russian hackers to Wikileaks.

All the intelligence agencies, including the FBI, agree that the computer system of the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta were hacked by individuals directed by the Russian government in order to interfere in the U.S. election.  This agreement is outlined in the joint statement from the intelligence community released on October 7th.  The Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security released a joint statement that accused Russia of launching computer hacks “intended to interfere with the US election process”(2).  It stated that the US intelligence community “is confident that the Russian government directed the recent compromises of emails” belonging to the Democratic National Committee.

The CIA’s argument to this point could then be summarized as follows:cia_fbi

  1. The Russians hacked the data bases of both the DNC and the RNC and other leading politicians.
  2. They leaked emails through Wikileaks in a manner that damaged the Democratic party.  They did not leak emails that damaged the Republican party.
  3.  We therefore have reason to think the Russians were trying to help Trump.

This provides a simplified look at how the CIA is interpreting the evidence.  But we have not begun to consider all the evidence that the Russians may have preferred Trump.

a. Trump’s Policy Positions

Let’s begin by considering Trump’s policy positions.  As mentioned, he has talked openly about: allowing Russia to annex Crimea; weakening NATO; reducing or removing the sanctions on Russia.  No other politician in the United States has advocated support for these positions.  They alter the balance of power in the world in a way that clearly serves the interests of Russia.

In order to understand the amount of business Russia has been losing as a result of the European Union sanctions, consider how much business Exxon has lost because of them.  Oil Price.com reports in October of this year that Exxon has lost over 1 billion dollars because of the economic sanctions on Russia.

Exxon has turned into a collateral victim of the U.S. economic sanctions against Russia. So while supermajor BP’s chief executive Bob Dudley said earlier this week that he was “a little saddened” with the way the Deepwater Horizon movie has painted his company, Exxon’s Rex Tillerson has perhaps an even greater reason to be a little saddened.

Exxon, the world’s biggest oil and gas company by value, entered Russia in the 1990s and has enjoyed a long and fruitful presence there. This presence was set to expand further with Exxon’s plans to take part in the exploration and exploitation of the country’s Arctic shelf. Unfortunately for Exxon, the U.S. and the EU hit Russia with sanctions over the annexation of Crimea and its support for Eastern Ukrainian rebels.

If the EU sanctions on Russia are removed as Trump has openly discussed, it will have a dramatic impact on the Russian economy.  The Russians stand to gain billions of dollars of business that is being lost right now.  This provides important evidence that the Russians probably preferred that Trump would win.

b. Trump’s Business Ties

Jeff Nesbit wrote an article in Time magazine about Trump’s many business ties to Russia.  He was the communications director to former Vice President Dan Quayle (R-IN) while he was in the White House.  Nesbit writes,

the real truth is that, as major banks in America stopped lending him money following his many bankruptcies, the Trump organization was forced to seek financing from non-traditional institutions. Several had direct ties to Russian financial interests in ways that have raised eyebrows.

One example Trump’s ties to Russian financiers is his work with the Bayrock Business Group.

The most obvious example is Trump Soho, a complicated web of financial intrigue that has played out in court. A lawsuit claimed that the business group, Bayrock, underpinning Trump Soho was supported by criminal Russian financial interests. While its initial claim absolved Trump of knowledge of those activities, Trump himself later took on the group’s principal partner as a senior advisor in the Trump organization.

“Tax evasion and money-laundering are the core of Bayrock’s business model,” the lawsuit said of the financiers behind Trump Soho. The financing came from Russian-affiliated business interests that engaged in criminal activities, it said. “(But) there is no evidence Trump took any part in, or knew of, their racketeering….”

But Bayrock wasn’t just involved with Trump Soho. It financed multiple Trump projects around the world, Foer wrote. “(Trump) didn’t just partner with Bayrock; the company embedded with him. Bayrock put together deals for mammoth Trump-named, Trump-managed projects—two in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a resort in Phoenix, the Trump SoHo in New York.”

Nesbit digs even deeper and finds that when Trump projects run short on revenue, more comes magically from sources in Russia and Kazakhstan.

Trump Soho was so complicated that Bayrock’s finance chief, Jody Kriss, sued it for fraud. In the lawsuit, Kriss alleged that a primary source of funding for Trump’s big projects with Bayrock arrived “magically” from sources in Russia and Kazakhstan whenever the business interest needed funding.

Nesbit provides a comprehensive picture.  After all Trump’s bankruptcies, he simply would not be able to do business without working with Russian financiers.  He has used Russian money to do projects all around the world.  This is another piece of evidence that would lead us to believe the Russians might prefer Trump.

c. Trump’s Campaign Ties

Max Boot wrote an article in The Los Angeles Times entitled, “The Trump-Russia links Beneath the surface are even more extensive.”  He gets right to the point.

Trump’s de facto campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was a longtime consultant to Viktor Yanukovich, the Russian-backed president of Ukraine who was overthrown in 2014. Manafort also has done multimillion-dollar business deals with Russian oligarchs. Trump’s foreign policy advisor Carter Page has his own business ties to the state-controlled Russian oil giant Gazprom. … Another Trump foreign policy advisor, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, flew to Moscow last year to attend a gala banquet celebrating Russia Today, the Kremlin’s propaganda channel, and was seated at the head table near Putin.

Richard Burt was the former U.S. ambassador to Germany under President Ronald Reagan from 1985 to 1989.  He joined the Trump campaign at the request of Paul Manafort.  Burt sits on the board of a bank in Russia called Alfa-Bank.

Burt’s position at Alfa-Bank is particularly noteworthy.  The New York Times reported on October 31st that FBI officials spent weeks examining computer data showing an odd stream of activity between a Trump Organization server and Alfa Bank, which is one of Russia’s biggest banks and whose owners have longstanding ties to Mr. Putin.  The logs show that two servers at Alfa Bank sent more than 2,700 “look-up” messages– a first step for one system’s computers to talk to another — to a Trump-connected server beginning in the spring of 2016. But the F.B.I. “ultimately concluded that there could be an innocuous explanation, like a marketing email or spam, for computer contacts”(3).

The New York Times article makes it clear that F.B.I. investigators did not confirm the 2,700 messages were marketing emails or spam; they simply concluded that it was possible that they were.

We are now in a position to summarize the CIA’s argument with respect to Russia’s intentions in interfering with the U.S. election.

  1. The Russians hacked the data bases of both the DNC and the RNC and other leading politicians.
  2. They leaked emails through Wikileaks in a manner that damaged the Democratic party.  They did not leak emails that damaged the Republican party.
  3. Trump’s policy positions on Crimea, NATO and Russia are in the interests of Russia.
  4. Trump’s business ties to Russia are in Russia’s interests.
  5. The ties between Trump’s campaign team and Russia are in Russia’s interests.
  6. Therefore, the “consensus view” of the intelligence community is that Russia was trying to help Trump win.

Once again, just for comparison, the FBI’s argument is:

  1. The Russians hacked the data bases of both the DNC and the RNC and other leading politicians.
  2. They leaked emails in a manner that damaged the Democratic party.
  3. It was done to undermine Hillary Clinton and democratic institutions.

Explanations for the Different Arguments

The Washington Post article provides one potential explanation for the different arguments provided by the FBI and the CIA: these agencies have different cultures.

The competing messages, according to officials in attendance, also reflect cultural differences between the FBI and the CIA. The bureau, true to its law enforcement roots, wants facts and tangible evidence to prove something beyond all reasonable doubt. The CIA is more comfortable drawing inferences from behavior.

“The FBI briefers think in terms of criminal standards — can we prove this in court,” one of the officials said. “The CIA briefers weigh the preponderance of intelligence and then make judgment calls to help policymakers make informed decisions. High confidence for them means ‘we’re pretty damn sure.’ It doesn’t mean they can prove it in court.”

This explanation is well taken.  It is certainly accurate on a number of levels.  Since the F.B.I. now acknowledges that damaging Clinton was one of the goals of the Russians, the differences between the F.B.I.’s and the C.I.A.’s arguments are not so great and they can perhaps be accounted for by this difference in approach.

The C.I.A. is “direct and bald and unqualified” about Russia’s intentions to help Trump. The F.B.I. now believes the Russians were probably trying to damage Clinton and undermine democratic institutions.  The level of certainty associated with these claims appears to be the primary difference.  As mentioned, damaging Clinton can be one of the most effective ways of helping Trump.

It was true that the “FBI and CIA [gave] differing accounts to lawmakers on Russia’s motives in 2016 hacks.”  But the FBI’s position has evolved along with the CIA’s position and they are actually very close.

When we drill down into the FBI’s position and find how close it is to the CIA’s position, it forces us to consider why the FBI went out of their way to give the impression to lawmakers “that the bureau and the agency weren’t on the same page.”  It is difficult to believe this was done out of a deep understanding of the substantive difference between the Russians damaging Clinton or helping Trump?  This difference is almost impossible to detect.  Why would the F.B.I. go out of the way to disagree with the intelligence community on the basis of this undetectable distinction?

There are two things we should consider with about this distinction the FBI is making between damaging Clinton and helping Trump.  First, the FBIs present belief in it is inconsistent with their standard of the evidence.  As mentioned, damaging Clinton is one of the most effective ways of helping Trump.  Unless therefore there is direct evidence of the motive of Russians, which we clearly do not have, it will be difficult to prove in court that the Russians were trying to damage Clinton but not help Trump.  The FBI does not have the “facts and tangible evidence to prove” “beyond all reasonable doubt” that the Russians were trying to damage Clinton but they were not trying to help Trump.  If they were following their standard of evidence they would have to remain agnostic with respect to the issue of whether the Russians were trying to damage Clinton or help Trump.

Second, Putin is not in a position to distinguish between damaging Clinton or helping Trump.  Russian intelligence capabilities give them the ability to damage U.S. politicians; but it does not give them the same ability to help these politicians.  You do not see leaked emails and fake news being used to help candidates; but it can be used effectively to damage them.  Given the tools Putin has at his disposal, if he did want to help Trump get elected, the most practical way for him to accomplish this would be for him to use the Russian counterintelligence capacity to damage Clinton.

In reality, therefore, the distinction the FBI is making between the different possible goals of the Russians does not exist.  Given the tools they have, damaging Clinton is the only practical way they have of helping install Trump.

Why would the FBI insist on making a distinction in Russian motives the Russians do not have the ability to make?  The false dilemma the FBI used initially and this distinction they are now using between damaging Clinton and helping Trump are both evidence of what Freud would describe as rationalizing.  The political culture in the FBI supports Trump according to current FBI agents.  Admitting the Russians are trying to help Trump win is therefore going to be something they do not want to do.  They are going to look for all kinds of excuses not to admit this.  First they use a false dilemma to hide the possibility from consideration.  Next they create an undetectable distinction between damaging Clinton and helping Trump.  These are symptoms of a serious problem in the FBI: it is suffering from the political culture of Trumplandia.

We see evidence of this in all the leaks that came out of the FBI during the last weeks of the election.

October 28
The Director of the FBI sent a message to congressional leaders stating the FBI was going to investigate some emails they found on one of Clinton’s assistant’s laptops (8).

Clinton’s chances of winning Florida and North Carolina were 66% and 65% respectively according to the FiveThirtyEight website (9).

October 29
Details of an FBI investigation into the Clinton Foundation ended up in a news report even though senior law enforcement officials and career anti-corruption prosecutors made it clear they were not impressed with the case (article).

November 1
The FBI released on a public twitter feed heavily redacted files from its 2001 investigation of President Bill Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich.

November 2
A story in the Wall Street Journal reveals more information about the FBI’s preliminary investigation of the Clinton Foundation.

Fox News reported that FBI sources said that the Clinton Foundation case is moving toward “likely an indictment.” The story was widely refuted by other media organizations. (Fox anchor Bret Baier apologized for the report on Friday, calling it a “mistake.”)

November 3
Clinton’s chances of winning Florida and North Carolina fell to approximately 50% according to the FiveThirtyEight website (9).

During the same period, the U.S. intelligence agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community did not release any information relating to either of the candidates in the election.

The FBI’s View of the Ties Between Trump and Russia  

One consequence of the political culture in the FBI is that it blinded them to the significance of the ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.  This failure is particularly evident in an article published in The New York Times on October 31st entitled, “Investigating Donald Trump, F.B.I. Sees No Clear Link to Russia.”

F.B.I. officials told reporters, “none of the investigations so far have found any conclusive or direct link between Mr. Trump and the Russian government.”  After the election, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Bloomberg, Reuters, CNN, Politico and the Wall Street Journal all reported that Russian officials were in contact with the Trump team during the campaign (4).  Bloomberg reports that, “Russia said it was in contact with President-elect Donald Trump’s team during the U. S. election campaign, despite repeated denials by the republican candidate’s advisers.”

The Washington Post reports that Moscow has in the past used middlemen so it has plausible deniability.

…Intelligence agencies do not have specific intelligence showing officials in the Kremlin “directing” the identified individuals to pass the Democratic emails to WikiLeaks, a second senior U.S. official said. Those actors, according to the official, were “one step” removed from the Russian government, rather than government employees. Moscow has in the past used middlemen to participate in sensitive intelligence operations so it has plausible deniability.

When F.B.I. officials say none of their “investigations so far have found any conclusive or direct link between Mr. Trump and the Russian government” it could serve as evidence they are looking for the wrong kind of links.  They are looking for an email from a Russian government official telling a hacker to steal emails from the DNC.  Vladimir Putin was trained in the KGB.  He does not allow emails like that to be sent.

The FBI appears to have used their failure to find a direct link to the Russian government as an excuse to overlook the ties between the Trump campaign and Russian businessmen.  Malcolm Nance notes in his book, The Plot to Hack American,

Russian oligarchs must have very deep, personal ties to Russian strongman Vladimir Putin to get anything accomplished or even to hold onto their wealth. Having a “Roof” over one’s head— a Russian euphemism for sponsorship by the politically powerful— is a tradition as old as Russia itself (Kindle Locations 699-701)

Manafort, Page, Burt, the Bayrock Business Group and Trump all do business under Putin’s roof.  In order for them to operate, they must, among other things, avoid leaving any “direct links” to the Russian government such as the ones for which the FBI appears to be looking.

The intelligence agencies appear to have a more realistic understanding of the way Russia runs counterintelligence operations.  Their view of the Russians is also not plagued with the false dilemma initially used by the FBI.

Conclusion  

The explanation The Washington Post provides for the different positions taken by the FBI and the CIA is well taken.  The different cultures in these organizations and the different standards for evidence they use may have contributed to the differences in their positions.

However, different standards of evidence do not explain the FBI’s use of a false dilemma or a distinction for which they have no evidence.  These mistakes can be interpreted as signs of a desire to support Trump and an unconscious willingness to make the intellectual accommodations necessary to do so, regardless of the guidance of logic or empirical data.  We can see evidence of this political culture in the difference between the FBI’s handling of Clinton’s emails and Trump’s ties to Russia.

The F.B.I. made no effort to confirm whether the emails sent between the Alfa Bank and the Trump server were spam or marketing emails. They did not discuss their investigation of these emails with congress.  They did take the time to confirm whether or not the emails on Clinton’s assistant’s laptop had classified information.   The F.B.I. did take the time to discuss their investigation of Clinton’s emails with congress in the last days before a presidential election.

F.B.I. officials have not described the evidence they used to come to the conclusion initially that it is clear the Russians were probably trying to damage Clinton but it is not clear the Russians were trying to help Trump.  They have not provided any explanation for how these motives are distinguishable for Putin, given his country’s capabilities.  They have not provided any reason for why they are now ignoring this distinction.  This distinction the F.B.I. made briefly between damaging Clinton and helping Trump makes no sense if we are trying to interpret the motives of Russians.  In this respect it is similar to the false dilemma they used initially.  But they both make sense if we are tying to interpret the motives of the F.B.I.

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