Voice of America casts doubts Russia was behind Democrats’ emails leak

BBG Watch Commentary

U.S. tax-funded Voice of America (VOA) has issued a confusing news report in English to be translated into other languages that casts serious doubts whether Russia was behind the leak of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails designed to harm Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump.

Even Donald Trump, along with most Americans and U.S. officials, both laymen and experts, appears to have no doubts that the Russians were behind the DNC leak. He made an incredibly unprecedented and foolish appeal to the Russians to release Hillary Clinton’s emails which had been erased from her personal server and cannot be found.  Donald Trump’s remark, which was widely criticized by both Democrats and Republicans although it may have been said in jest, points to a major national security issue.  One thing is clear, Donald Trump believes the Russians are hacking U.S. government  and private emails.

It appears that the FBI and President Obama suspect the Russians in the DNC hack as well. But the Voice of America found one expert who doesn’t. VOA gave the expert prominent coverage without bothering to check off the record with the FBI and other U.S. officials and to report what they were saying to other journalists.

The VOA news report posted Tuesday repeatedly questioned charges that Russia was behind the hacking of DNC emails, but offered no evidence that somebody else could have done it. Having raised doubts, VOA did not offer any evidence of anybody else being involved and trying to make it appear as a Russian hack. Nevertheless, VOA gave this unsupported theory a lot of exposure.
 

SEE: “Democrats Link Russia, Email Leaks … and Trump, Voice of America,” July 26, 2016

 
This raises the question that if the Russians did not do it, who did and why?

Cui bono?

The Voice of America report does not answer this question while trying to deflect the accusations from President Putin’s secret services and their agents.

U.S. President Barack Obama said it is possible that Russia was behind a major leak of Democratic party emails last week and had the goal of influencing the U.S. presidential election, VOA’s sister outlet within the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) federal agency, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), reported.

“Anything is possible,” Obama said in an interview with NBC News on July 26.

Other media, including The Daily Beast, concluded that the Russians were almost definitely behind the DNC hack, ‘DNC Hacker’ Unmasked: He Really Works for Russia, Researchers Say” | The Daily Beast, Tuesday, July 26, 2016.

The Daily Beast also reported Monday: FBI Suspects Russia Hacked DNC; U.S. Officials Say It Was to Elect Donald Trump,” The Daily Beast, Monday, July 25, 2016.

The Voice of America, however, reported Tuesday that “No U.S. government official has said who is behind the DNC email leaks.” “There have been no official accusations that Russia is behind the disclosure,”  the VOA report stressed.

The VOA report does not say what U.S. officials have been telling reporters off the record, showing a remarkable lack of journalistic curiosity by not asking questions while freely speculating that the Russians may not have done the hacking and were not responsible for the leak of the emails.

This curious VOA report also seems to question why Clinton officials would make a public accusation against Russia in the DNC emails hack. Other than the Kremlin media and Putin’s defenders, no one else, including President Obama, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and all of their supporters, seem to be having the same doubts as the U.S. tax-funded Voice of America.

“Top Clinton officials on Monday took the extraordinary step of accusing Russian hackers of trying to interfere in the U.S. election by releasing the Democratic National Committee emails,” the VOA report said.

Most political observers would agree that there was nothing “extraordinary,” as the VOA report put it, about such an accusation in the context of U.S. politics and, more importantly, Russia’s prior behavior. It would have been extraordinary if top Clinton officials did not make such an accusation, as it appears to be the most reasonable one, and certainly the best one from their political perspective. Again, Cui bono?

Further in the report, VOA inserted a strange sub-headline with the question mark (Really, VOA; as if no one knows.): “Helping Trump?,” followed by these two sentences:

 

VOA: “Not all experts agree that Russia can be easily implicated. Yet, Clinton’s campaign on Monday took it a step further, arguing that Russian hackers released the emails to help Donald Trump, the Republican nominee.”

It is fairly obvious that if the Russians did it, they did it to help Trump.

Further in the VOA report, we read:

 

VOA: “While some U.S. officials, speaking off the record, have described the attack as part of a wider series of Russian cyber intrusions into U.S. political and academic systems, some cyber experts expressed skepticism.
 
It is nearly impossible to determine who carried out such a cyberattack, says Jeffrey Carr, author of ‘Inside Cyber Warfare.’
 
‘The technical evidence can all be faked,’ Carr said. ‘When you look at a piece of malware, you’re looking at what the author of the malware wants you to see.’
 
‘It’s like finding a gun at the scene of a shooting that was made in Russia. We don’t assume it was a Russian shooter,’ he said.
 
There’s also a matter of language, Carr says. ‘We say Russian hackers, and then we immediately assume it’s the Russian government.'” READ MORE in the VOA report.

 

Compare the VOA report to what The Daily Beast has reported on the same issue:

 

 
THE DAILY BEAST–MONDAY: “The FBI suspects that Russian government hackers breached the networks of the Democratic National Committee and stole emails that were posted to the anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks on Friday. It’s an operation that several U.S. officials now suspect was a deliberate attempt to influence the presidential election in favor of Donald Trump, according to five individuals familiar with the investigation of the breach.” READ MORE in “The Daily Beast.”
 

 

THE DAILY BEAST–TUESDAY: “The hacker who claimed to compromise the DNC swore he was Romanian. But new research shows he worked directly for the Vladimir Putin government in Moscow.
 
The hacker who claims to have stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee and provided them to WikiLeaks is actually an agent of the Russian government and part of an orchestrated attempt to influence U.S. media coverage surrounding the presidential election, a security research group concluded on Tuesday.
 
The researchers, at Arlington, Va.-based ThreatConnect, traced the self-described Romanian hacker Guccifer 2.0 back to an Internet server in Russia and to a digital address that has been linked in the past to Russian online scams. Far from being a singly, sophisticated hacker, Guccifer 2.0 is more likely a collection of people from the propaganda arm of the Russian government meant to deflect attention away from Moscow as the force behind the DNC hacks and leaks of emails, the researchers found.” READ MORE in “The Daily Beast”

 

 

The difference between the VOA report and the Daily Beast report could not be more striking. In fact, the VOA report is quite unique when it comes to reporting on this topic by American and other Western media.

History may be repeating itself at the taxpayer-funded Voice of America ($224 million for FY 2017). Ironically, VOA has a lot of experience with hostile foreign hacking as well as substandard reporting about it despite its own experience.

As with its earlier reporting on the North Korean hacking of SONY, VOA refuses to look at the most likely culprits and for reasons difficult to establish tries hard to obtain and report statements that would exonerate these most likely perpetrators. This may be because BBG executives have shown themselves to be remarkably ineffective when it comes to cyber security in their own U.S. government organization. The Iranian Cyber Army managed to launch a successful hacking attack on the Voice of America main news website (VOANEWS.com) in February 2011, replacing it for several hours with an anti-U.S. message addressed to the then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
 

VOA 2011

 

Voice of America news website under an Iranian hacking attack in 2011 was showing anti-American slogans and a slur against then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Voice of America news website under an Iranian hacking attack in 2011 was showing anti-American slogans and a slur against then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

 

VOA 2014

 

Voice of America Screen Shot 2014-12-20 at 4.48 PM ET. Voice of America did not mention this earlier "Exclusive"  VOA news when reporting on President Obama's Friday's comments on the North Korean cyber attack on Sony.

Voice of America Screen Shot 2014-12-20 at 4.48 PM ET. Voice of America did not mention this earlier “Exclusive” VOA news when reporting on President Obama’s Friday’s comments on the North Korean cyber attack on Sony.

In 2014, VOA posted an “exclusive” report stating that “North Korea has firmly denied charges that it is behind a massive cyber-attack against Sony Pictures.” In that hacking incident, the FBI and the White House quickly concluded that North Korea was responsible and President Obama announced sanctions in response to the North Korean hacking incident. VOA’s repeating of North Korean propaganda without any evidence or questioning of North Korean claims was widely criticized.
 

VOA 2016

 
The latest VOA report on the DNC email controversy is strange for various reasons. It goes into extraordinary efforts to cast doubts on the Russian connection with the DNC emails leak, but at the same time it includes extensive criticism of Donald Trump, stating that Donald Trump “is said to have extensive business links with many oligarchs close to Putin,” without offering proof or much balance, and without using the most relevant statement from the candidate’s campaign staff that “Mr. Trump does not have any business dealings in/with Russia.”

It is true as VOA and other have reported that some of Donald Trump’s advisors have disturbing links to Russian interests, but the VOA report offered no evidence that Mr. Trump himself does. VOA also did not attempt to get Trump’s reaction to this particular charge, as it is required to do by the VOA Charter when such political accusations are made.

A statement on this controversy from Trump’s press secretary Hope Hicks was already available on Monday. It said that “Mr. Trump does not have any business dealings in/with Russia.”

The VOA report posted Tuesday did not carry or referred to this statement from Trump’s press secretary, as it should have to be in compliance with the VOA Charter.

Mr. Trump, as well as his supporters, have a justifiable reason to be upset, as Bernie Sanders’ supporters were earlier after biased, one-sided anti-Sanders commentaries appeared in VOA programs. Since the Voice of America is funded by U.S. taxpayers, Sanders and Trump are in effect subsidizing one-sided attacks on themselves and their supporters by a U.S. government-run media outlet. VOA content is available on the internet in the United States. It can sway U.S. voters in favor or against a particular candidate. After BBG Watch reported on earlier examples of biased political coverage by VOA, Ms. Bennett ordered anti-bias training and made strong statements in support of the VOA Charter. She then confused VOA journalists by praising another report which was on the topic of illegal immigration in the United States. The report, loosely connected with Donald Trump, was completely one-sided and violated the VOA Charter.

The VOA report Tuesday said correctly that “Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, worked as a public relations consultant for Ukraine’s pro-Russia president Viktor Yanukovych before the Ukrainian strongman was ousted and fled to Moscow in 2014.” The VOA report raised some good questions, but these other accusations did not support the VOA charge that Mr. Trump himself “is said to have extensive business links with many oligarchs close to Putin.” There is no clear evidence that he does, but it seems that the head of VOA’s agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors Chairman Jeff Shell was planning recently to do business in Russia for the private company he works for.
 

BBG Mission to Moscow

 
Something really strange is going on at the U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America under new leadership of VOA director Amanda Bennett and its federal agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, run by CEO John Lansing. He is also relatively new to his job and does not have any prior government or foreign affairs experience. In what can only be described as an attempt to obscure Mr. Shell’s real purpose for going to Moscow and his own role in planning the ill-advised trip, Mr. Lansing issued a misleading statement which completely omitted key material facts.

A few days ago, BBG CEO John Lansing tried to cover up information that BBG Chairman Jeff Shell, when he was expelled from Russia last week, was going there to do private company business, which raises serious conflict of interest questions, and was going to meet Putin’s officials invited to a party by BBG-managed Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).

The Voice of America did not attempt to do an investigative report on Mr. Shell’s business travel to Russia even though Ms. Bennett is a former Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter. RFE/RL also did not try to explore Mr. Shell’s private business plans in Russia and their potential for conflict of interest in his U.S. government role as Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors charged with supporting freedom and democracy in countries like Russia.

VOA had a good Russia/U.S./BBG/conflict of interest story under its nose and ignored it.

We are still waiting for VOA director Amanda Bennett and RFE/RL president Thomas Kent to request their journalists to do a comprehensive and balanced report on the circumstances of BBG Chair Jeff Shell’s planned private business trip to Moscow, any potential conflict of interest issues, and the role of BBG officials, John Lansing and Jeff Trimble, and Mr. Kent himself, in planning Mr. Shell’s ill-advised and unfortunate travel.

In 2013, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and herself member of the bipartisan BBG Board said that the Broadcasting Board of Governors is practically defunct.”

 

 
HILLARY CLINTON: “Our Broadcasting Board of Governors is practically defunct in terms of its capacity to be able to tell a message around the world. So we’re abdicating the ideological arena, and we need to get back into it. We have the best values. We have the best narrative.”
 

 
Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) said recently that the agency is still broken under Mr. Shell’s and Mr. Lansing’s new leadership and losing the info war to ISIS and Putin.” Rep. Royce and the committee’s Ranking Democrat, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) have introduced bipartisan legislation, H.R. 2323, to reform the agency. BBG CEO John Lansing and BBG Chair Jeff Shell are on the record opposing the bill’s key provisions to abolish the BBG Board and to restructure the agency. This reform bill and other legislative proposals to restructure the agency are still waiting for further action in the U.S. Congress.

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