04:29 GMT03 March 2021
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    The New York Times has finally retracted its assertion that 17 US national intelligence agencies had unanimously agreed that Russia organized cyberattacks against the US.

    On Thursday, the New York Times issued a correction of a June 25 White House Memo report by correspondent Maggie Haberman: "The assessment was made by four intelligence agencies – the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency. The assessment was not approved by all 17 organizations in the American intelligence community."

    The Times’ retraction fails to reflect the fact that even those four agencies weren’t in full agreement.

    The National Security Agency (NSA) is the main body that can trace and track all incoming and outgoing cyber activity on US networks, according to CIA analyst Ray McGovern. They offered a "moderate" confidence level in the allegations of Russian hacking in the report cited by the Times. 

    "If this was a hack, NSA would know about it. NSA does not know about it," he said in an April interview. "Matter of fact, when the CIA and FBI said, 'we have high confidence' … NSA, which is the only real agency that has the capability to trace these things, said 'well, we only have moderate confidence.'"

    "In the Army we call that the SWAG factor: a scientific wild-ass guess," McGovern said.

    Methodologically, the US intelligence community simply doesn’t just leap to consensus conclusions, making unanimous consent suspicious. Instead, the process allows for dissenting opinions. "The Times’ grudging correction was vindication for some Russia-gate skeptics who had questioned the claim of a full-scale intelligence assessment," Robert Parry wrote for Consortium News on Thursday, "which would usually take the form of a National Intelligence Estimate (or NIE), a product that seeks out the views of the entire Intelligence Community and includes dissents."

    What’s more, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper even admitted on January 6 that the analysts responsible for preparing the report were "hand-picked," which leaves open the possibility that the report was written for political, rather than intelligence, purposes.

    "As any intelligence expert will tell you, if you 'hand-pick' the analysts, you are really hand-picking the conclusion," Parry wrote.

    The end result: Hillary Clinton and other top Democrats have had the full force of the US intelligence community to cite this "fictional consensus," Parry noted.

    He cited Clinton’s sophisticated rhetoric at the May 31 Re-Code conference, where she blamed "non-existent" data for her loss: "Seventeen agencies, all in agreement, which I know from my experience as a senator and secretary of state, is hard to get. They concluded with high confidence that the Russians ran an extensive information war campaign against my campaign, to influence voters in the election."


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