The Daily Beast has published a report on President Vladimir Putin’s “latest dirty trick.” The “trick” is that the Russian government is allegedly “intercepting and leaking the private phone calls” between Western and Ukrainian officials. That is how phone calls have allegedly been surfacing on the Internet over the past seven weeks.
The only problem is that The Daily Beast has no facts to back up any of these claims. Daily Beast journalist Eli Lake, as he has perfected in his career, managed to get some anonymous US officials to talk to him. He was able to get Representative Mike Rogers to spew some vitriol that he could insert to make his report more sensational. But neither Rogers nor any of the unnamed officials who spoke to him provided specific evidence that Putin is behind the leaks.
Rogers, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said Russia is “engaged in counter-information campaigns,” and, “They are very aggressive, they are using old style thuggery, cut-your-ear-off KGB tactics and they are using this leaking of collected information to their advantage.” He believes they are “behind” the leaked calls.
According to Lake, “Other US officials who spoke to The Daily Beast said they concurred that the spate of the leaked phone calls was part of a deliberate intelligence strategy to intercept and selectively publicize the private conversations of Western and Ukrainian officials.” But none of this constitutes proof that Putin is actually doing any of this. It just shows what some officials think or believe.
Why isn’t The New York Times reporting this if it is true? Why isn’t The Washington Post reporting this if it is true? Why aren’t US officials leaking more details that actually include specifics and not merely speculation if this is true?
If this truly is a part of a state-sponsored counter-information campaign, why hasn’t there been more of a response from the US government? Could it be that officials are not actually sure of how these communications are being intercepted or hacked? Could it be possible that Russian hackers who support the government are targeting communications?
Lake tries to put the heat on Snowden for Putin’s conduct. He calls him an “NSA outlaw” and writes, “An added irony is that Russia is granting asylum to Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who disclosed American spying on foreign leaders and communications networks, as his host country engages in the very kinds of electronic monitoring Snowden has spoken out against.”
He frames this story in a such manner that one is supposed to blame Snowden for the fact that the United States cannot prevent these leaks.
“With the United States itself under fire internationally for its own surveillance of foreign leaders, the Russians have been able to anonymously collect and disclose their own snooping to date with little political price,” Lake contends. The Obama administration apparently cannot condemn Russian spying now because Snowden has revealed that the US government engages in similar spying.
It is a disturbing aspect of state-identified journalism that whistleblowers are portrayed as individuals who should be held accountable for any and all US foreign policy issues that can be connected to them. This is another piece to add to an ever-expanding list of yellow journalism that has been produced since Snowden’s disclosures first began.
While Putin and the FSB, Russia’s intelligence service, might very well be behind these leaks, speculation should not be published as fact. When your sole on-the-record source is Rogers, who has gone on “Meet the Press” to fabricate a story about Snowden being under “Russian influence” without any proof whatsoever twice now, that should make one think twice about publishing.
There’d be little to criticize if The Daily Beast headline was not “Putin’s Latest Dirty Trick: Leaking Private Phone Calls.” A much better headline would be “US Officials Suspect Putin is Leaking Private Phone Calls.”
Furthermore, it would seem this story is driven by an obsession with Russian state-funded media. Lake himself has been very fixated on this issue.
“All three intercepted phone calls were invaluable to reinforcing Russia’s desired narrative: depicting the West as meddling in Ukrainian affairs and Ukraine’s new leadership as implacably hostile to Moscow,” Lake argues. “Not coincidentally, all three calls received major play on the Kremlin-funded Russian propaganda station known as RT. And all three are almost certainly the handiwork of Russia’s intelligence services.”
Then, he inserts, “At least this is the assessment of current and former US intelligence officials interviewed by The Daily Beast,” as if what was written is not his own personal viewpoint.
Lake has a history of journalistic fraud. In 2013, Ken Silverstein detailed for Harper’s how Josh Rogin and him manufactured a news story about a “conference call between al Qaeda’s senior leaders and representatives of several of the group’s affiliates throughout the region.”
“A number of respected national-security journalists” questioned the story,” according to Silverstein. “Ken Dilanian of the Los Angeles Times suggested that the piece was intended to glorify the NSA’s signals-intelligence capabilities. Barton Gellman of the Washington Post said there was something “very wrong” with the whole thing. New York magazine got in on the act by parodying the notion of an Al Qaeda conference call.”
Silverstein noted Lake had been an “ardent promoter” of the Iraq War and this fit “a career pattern of credulously planting dubious stories from sources with strong political agendas.”
The United States is at a moment where neoconservatives and other factions want to see the country show strength and stand up to Russia. The New York Times recently published this op-ed by neoconservative and Iraq War architect Zalmay Khalilzad titled, “Stand Up to Russia Now.”
Who knows if officials contributed to this story with the intent of escalating pressure on the Obama administration to take more decisive moves. Either way, stories like this one and others, which are very thin on facts but call out Putin for alleged “dirty tricks,” should be viewed with extreme skepticism until a more reputable source provides actual proof.