Friday, March 31, 2017

"Homeland" Makes the US Senate More Real

Had I not seen "Homeland," now in it's 6th season, last night I would not have comprehended what the witnesses testifying before the Senate Committee on Intelligence were talking about this morning.
Clinton Watts: Follow the Bodies

The panel answering questions included a  Georgetown professor Godson and a live wire named Clinton Weeks, a former FBI agent now cyber security/terrorist consultant, who provided a punchy, quotable counter part to the more lugubrious professor ,who actually had some real wisdom to impart but the Senators kept cutting him off because he is about 70 years old and has not learned how to express complex thoughts in 140 characters.
Watts, on the other hand, is younger and apparently doesn't care what the Senators think of him, and he suggested at one point, when asked how we might come to an understanding about what the Russians are up to, "Well, just follow the dead bodies." 
There are all sorts of Russian, who have had something to do with disinformation schemes turning up dead on the streets of Moscow, London, Kiev and who knows where else?

I've been asking all my friends for months: What difference does it make whether Russia tried to influence the 2016 American election?  Everyone was trying to influence that election from the FBI, to the DNC to the RNC to the UK to advertising agencies in the employ of various PAC's , to--you name it. They still had to persuade American voters.

This is where "Homeland" comes in.  Max stumbles into a trollstation, run by a deliciously nasty, oily, smarmy Steve Bannon/ Rush Limbaugh/Fox News type called Brett O'Keefe,  who makes his fat living on conspiracy theories and Breitbart fake news.  He has obtained the helmet cam from the last mission showing the death of the President elect's son, which he edits in such a way to make it look like the son was fleeing from the enemy when, in fact, he was rushing forward to rescue one of his fellow soldiers.  This is run with a tag, "Cowardice runs in the family."

The seamy underside of this troll station is shown on Homeland visually,  but the testimony at the Senate fleshed out how trolls actually can do their damage.
Watts described how Russian trolls got voter registrations in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania and targeted fake news stories to specific voters in those states with nuggets like Hillary was running a child sex ring out of a pizza joint in Washington, how she was dying of AIDS and other juicy bits which could then be re tweeted across Facebook and other sites. If you can just find where the crazies, borderline personalities, unhinged live, then you can push their buttons big time. Then these alarmed patriots do their 21st century version of Paul Revere's ride and alert everyone on Facebook, Linked In, Twitter and who knows what?
Counties which voted for Obama and Trump: Trolls Did Their Work Well

Of course, all this depends on the gullibility and stupidity and lack of critical capacity of a public which also devours National Enquirer space alien stories, but when Watts described how methodically you could seek out the Kool Aid drinkers in these critical states, you could see just how they could have manipulated the election.

Citizens United is irrelevant if all that affects is TV advertising. Who even notices TV ads any more, when you've got a story about Hillary cashing in insurance policies from the dead foreign service officers of Benghazi?
I saw it on Breitbart and Fox: It Must Be True

As Watts noted, when you've got a fat target for your fake news in the commander-in-chief, that's all you really need. If you can count that pushing his button will immediately get the response you want, aren't you sitting pretty? All they have to do is feed Mr. Trump a story and it's gone viral at 5AM the next morning.  Obama tapped the White House, 3 million fraudulent ballots, the FBI killed Vince Foster on Hillary's orders and Obama was born on Kenya, the son of space aliens.

Angus King observed Vladimir Putin was dealt a really poor hand, but he played it superbly. He could not match the US in expenditures for aircraft carriers and warplanes, but he could invest a paltry few million in cyber warriors and get the results he wanted in the election.

Watts added that Putin did not even have to depend on Trump winning. If Trump won, terrific. But if Putin could stain and damage Hillary Clinton enough, even if she won, she would come to office wounded, damaged goods.

Why did the US not match Russian trolls and cyber manipulations?   Because spending money on hardware, airplanes and ships is so much more appealing than investing in software and human beings.  As Watts  noted wryly, while the Russians were recruiting and training cyber warriors who were exploiting voting sectors in Wisconsin, the US was rejecting good potential hackers and trolls because "they'd smoked weed at some geek party ten years ago."

Obadiah Youngblood, Red House

Even the stone faced woman sitting behind Mr. Watts had to smile at that.

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