Thursday, 16 February 2017

Snow on their boots...thoughts on the Great Russian Hacker Conspiracy

"There is being circulated everywhere a story that an immense force of Russian soldiers – a little short of a million, it is said – have passed, or are still passing, through England on their way to France."

The rumour began on 27th August 1914, because of a 17-hour delay on the London to Liverpool train service. The reason for the hold-up was said to have been caused by the transportation by rail of Russian troops, who had landed in Scotland and, under conditions of the utmost secrecy were being moved by train to the Channel ports. From there they were destined to cross to France and fight alongside the Allies.

As the tale spread, more and more people ‘knew’ someone who had seen Russian troops in transit. For instance, someone knew a railway porter in Edinburgh who had swept snow from the railway carriages there, at several stations there were reports of strange-looking men seen with snow on their boots. In Perthshire, Lady Baden-Powell heard that the Russians were coming and promptly rushed to the station to catch a glimpse of them.
It seems not much has changed. Except the Russians in question today don't have snow on their boots preferring the relative warmth of a swivel chair in front of a computer screen. And this time they're sinister baddies not saving troops.
Hours after Michael Flynn, Mr Trump's national security adviser, resigned after misleading the White House over conversations with the Russian ambassador to the US, reports emerged that key campaign aides had also been communicating with Russian officials.

That scandal began after US officials leaked the fact that Mr Flynn had discussed sanctions with the ambassador. Leaks also prompted the controversy over the "dirty dossier" prepared by a former MI6 operative, and have plagued the first weeks of the Trump administration.
From anonymous briefings, leaks and oblique references comes a line that results in the widespread belief that somehow Russian espionage was responsible for Trump's election (and for more febrile minds Brexit too). The most creative and complex of those conspiracy theories can be read here - it's very good, John Le Carré would love it.

Now I'm absolutely sure that Russian intelligence agents did endeavour to interfere in the US Presidential election. I'm also pretty sure that those agents and their predecessors tried to influence the outcomes of every US election. This is pretty much part of the job description for a spy - get favourable outcomes for your country. And it's why countries have laws preventing foreign funding of election campaigns.

I'm also pretty much sure that the impact of Russian intelligence on the election is somewhere between 'none at all' and 'a little but but insignificant'. It suits a particular agenda to adopt the view that the Democrat's comprehensive defeat last November was down to sinister external forces rather than them simply not being popular enough even to beat a candidate as weak and unpopular as Donald Trump.

Nevertheless, as Tim Newman observes, liberal media such as the BBC persists with the suggestion that "one controversy has clung to the Trump train like glue: Russia". Tim also points out that there's not much truth to this:

Russia only became the albatross of choice with which to hang around Trump’s neck when all others were laughed off: misogyny, racism, fake news, etc.

Speaking from a cynical perspective, such argument - effectively exonerating left of centre political campaigning from failure and blaming a foreign government - continues to give the right, whether conservative or reactionary, a free run at politics. The public love a good spy story but, in the main, consider those stories to be just that - tall tales. Tim Newman's conclusion here is apt:
...if Trump had a tower with his name on in Moscow or a casino in Vladivostok then one could raise legitimate questions over his connections to Putin. But he doesn’t, and nothing I have seen suggests Trump ever had any business or other interests in Russia aside from him having a quick look-see back in the 1990s or early ’00s and deciding, quite sensibly, that it wasn’t worth the hassle. Has Trump actually ever been to Russia in person? Has he met Putin? I’ve not seen any evidence he’s done either, and if it existed surely we’d have seen it by now. This whole obsession with Russia is nothing more than the latest in a line of pathetic attempts to cast doubts on the legitimacy of Trump’s Presidency and shore up the narrative that he is not acting in the interests of America.
Strange conspiracy theories about Jews, communists, banks and big business used to be the stock-in-trade of the loonier parts of the far right. The continuing failure of decent patriots, working people and nationalism wasn't down to its lack of appeal but rather to the efforts of sinister folk meeting in Swiss mountain resorts or nice Caribbean hotels. It seems that, faced with a similar scale of defeat - especially in the USA - the centre-left has fallen hook, line and sinker for a new generation of conspiracies: tall tales with Russian snow on their boots.


No comments: