Matt Taibbi Asks If The Russian Hack Is Iraq WMD All Over Again, Reminds Journalists Of Judith Miller

Following the War in Afghanistan, the U.S. response to the September 11, 2001 attacks, then-President George W. Bush set his sights on invading Iraq and toppling dictator Saddam Hussein. Following the September 11 attacks, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden claimed responsibility, as reported by the CBC. Despite this, the ruling Taliban in Afghanistan refused to extradite him or other suspects to the United States, leading to war.

Osama bin Laden wasn’t finally captured by the United States until May 2011, by which time he had already moved to Abbotabad, Pakistan.

In making their case for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney, and members of the U.S. intelligence community relied on and presented evidence that had come from Ahmed Chalabi, which is now known to have been seriously flawed, as reported by the New York Times.

The invasion of Iraq could not have occurred without bipartisan support, as well as the support of the American public. A majority of both Republicans and Democrats voted in favor of passing the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002, in October of that year, as reported by Govtrack.

Just prior to the October-2002 vote, Judith Miller, with the New York Times, wrote with regard to Saddam Hussein’s “dogged insistence on pursuing his nuclear ambitions, along with what defectors described in interviews as Iraq’s push to improve and expand Baghdad’s chemical and biological arsenals,” among other accusations that have since been proven groundless. Miller’s Iraq WMD reporting has been described as ending “her career as a respectable journalist.”

Fast forward to the 2016 presidential race: it seems clear that a group hacked the Democratic National Committee, as well as a Vermont utility electrical system, as reported by Rolling Stone and the Inquisitr. Matt Taibbi, with Rolling Stone, writes that the accusation of voting systems being hacked during the 2016 election is a “far more outlandish tale backed by no credible evidence.”

Electoral College protesters hold signs bearing the likenesses of Russian President Vladimir Putin and President-elect Donald Trump.

PC Mag has featured a report produced by the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation that details the efforts of the Russian government to lead “cyber-enabled operations directed at the U.S. government and its citizens.”

The report from the federal agencies is said to detail as many as three separate “spearphishing” campaigns, one of which involved sending malware-infected emails to over 1,000 users, of which only one needed to be opened to expose the DNC’s computer systems. The second operation, thought to have taken place in the spring, was said to have tricked users into changing their email passwords with a fraudulent website. A third spearphishing campaign is reported to have taken place shortly after the November 8 election.

“These data theft and disclosure activities could only have been directed by the highest levels of the Russian government,” a statement written by President Obama reads.

Matt Taibbi describes the situation surrounding the reported Russian hack as putting journalists in a “jackpot.”

“We all remember the [Iraq] WMD fiasco,” Taibbi writes.

The Rolling Stone reporter described “awkwardness” in headlines following Obama’s statements and the FBI and Homeland Security report, observing that many news outlets seem “split” on the issue, unsure if they should take the president at his word, with some hedging bets by using “‘Obama says’ formulations.”

Taibbi writes that the report is “short on specifics” of how the intelligence community definitively determined that the hacks were the work of the Russian government or if their purpose was actually to influence the 2016 presidential elections. Even reports that “Russian hacking code” was found in the systems of a Vermont utility were made by “unnamed” officials, seemingly leaving reporters with another unverified situation.

Journalist Judith Miller, whose reporting on the Iraq WMD program in 2002 has been discredited.

Prior to the invasion of Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden had personally claimed responsibility for the September 11 attacks. By refusing the extradite him, the Taliban revealed that they believed he was in Afghanistan too. Saddam Hussein never claimed that Iraq had WMD. It does not appear that anyone in the Russian government has claimed responsibility for the hacks, which appears to have led Matt Taibbi to write that “nothing quite adds up.”

The Rolling Stone piece notes similarities between the current situation and the one surrounding Iraq WMD, including a “highly politicized environment” and “suspect” motives of involved parties.

Further, Matt Taibbi holds President Obama’s move of expelling Russian diplomats from the United Stats as an “oddly weak and ill-timed response.” Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain, as well as the DNC, appear to agree with Taibbi’s view, with the senators calling Russia’s punishment a “small price” and the DNC calling the response “insufficient.” The writer states that if the Russian government actually did interfere with the 2016 election that a “massive response” is called for. Taibbi appears frustrated that President Obama compared, what the president holds up as a bona fide cyber attack, to “humdrum tradecraft skirmishes” between the United States and Russia, which he suggests may be evidence that the president has a “thin case.”

Throughout the drama that has unfolded through 2016, the issue has continued to split Americans, with 62 percent of Donald Trump supporters professing a belief that millions of illegal votes were cast in the election, and 50 percent of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton supporters believing that Russian cyber activity was able to fraudulently inflate votes that went to Trump and/or reduce votes that went to Clinton.

'Rolling Stone' writer Matt Taibbi.

Matt Taibbi ended his piece with the admission that it is possible that the Russians did hack the DNC, but that without more evidence, the media is “flying blind.” He also admitted to the possibility that President-elect Trump and Vladimir Putin did direct a hacking campaign in concert, which he described as a “virtual coup d’etat” and among the “most serious things” to ever happen to the United States. Another possibility put forward was that the entire episode is “cynical ass-covering” on the part of the Democratic Party, looking to turn eyes away from their 2016 election failure, as well as a chance to smear Donald Trump. The reporter also allowed for a combination of each scenario.

“I have no problem believing that Vladimir Putin tried to influence the American election,” Matt Taibbi wrote. “And Donald Trump, too, was swine enough during the campaign to publicly hope the Russians would disclose Hillary Clinton’s emails. So a lot of this is very believable.”

The U.S. government would not back away from “burning new agencies,” finding “any sucker” willing to deliver their message, should the need arise, Taibbi concluded, seemingly holding onto doubts about the origin of the hacks.

“We ought to have learned from the Judith Miller episode.”

[Featured Image by Alexander Vilf/Getty Images]