2016 Presidential Election: Part 2 ~ Fact-based testimony of Clinton Watts, frmr FBI agent & counterterrorism expert on Russian Govt’s covert operations ~ 2014-2016

by faithgibson on March 31, 2017

Part Two – Real & specific facts on what and how the Russian govt interfered in our 2016 election

~ Testimony & interview of Clinton Watts, fmr FBI & current counterterrorism expert ~ 

Mr. Watts is a former FBI agent, who previously was the executive officer of the Counter-Terrorism Center at the West Point Military Academy, and is now an academic in the field of counterterrorism

On March 30th, 2017, Mr. Watt testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee about Russian interference in the presidential campaign and 2016 election.

He began by say:

“On 26 October 2015, I authored a post at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) entitled “Russia Returns as al Qaeda and the Islamic State’s Far Enemy” noting:

“The Russians have used social media-driven information campaigns to discredit the U.S. for years. Facebook and Twitter remain littered with pro-Russian, Western-looking accounts and supporting automated bots designed to undermine the credibility of the U.S. government.”

“…. In the 18 months prior to the above quote and in the three years leading up to today, two colleagues and I watched and tracked the rise of Russia’s social-media influence operations witnessing their update of an old Soviet playbook known as Active Measures.”

Mr. Watts informed members of the Senate Committee that the first Russian hacking of American politicians was noticed in 2014. Then he described the covert goals of the Russian govt as causing disruption and distrust, identified the electronic methods used to achieve them and provided considerable detail, explaining exactly how electronic disinformation campaigns are carried out.

Brief Explanation

Russian cyber-intelligence operatives first intruded into emails of politicians of both parties communication and then posted large troves of the stolen personal data from the Democratic campaign on WikiLeaks.

Internet distribution via WikiLeaks allowed Russian intelligence operatives to amplify false news stories by many orders-of-magnitude, since a single keystroke is like launching a missile. In this case, planted news trigger a self-generating internet process that repeats the false information tens of thousands of times all over the world.

This is accomplished by using internet bots, which are small snippets of code that mindlessly and endless repeat and distribute the targeted text. This malicious code is purposefully inserted into on-line posts, such as email & social media. These electronic tactics amplify (reach more people) the false information and false news as it continues to be reiterated (more copies circulated) on social media accounts (ex. Facebook) and on Alt-right websites.

Then unsuspecting Americans visit their Facebook page and become unwitting participants in Russia’s covert efforts to disrupt our political system, as this fake news is picked up and broadcast by mainstream media in just a few hours.

So far, American media outlets have not figured out how to stop being “part of the problem”. In essence, they are being “played” as they unwitting & unwilling amplify and distribute false and harmful news stories planted by people with malicious motives. While their job is to report the news in a timely fashion, they also have a responsibility to not to distribute false information.

Right now, our news outlets are in the unenviable position of being damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

There has to be a better way!

The following excerpts of testimony by Mr. Clinton Watts as a counterterrorism expert were incorporated into an MSNBC news program on March 31st, 2017.

Later in the same news story, Mr. Watts was personally present in a remote studio and was interviewed live as well.

The first MSNBC program excerpt begins @ minute 29:

“In April 2014 Andrew Weisberg, Jan Burger and I noticed a petition on WH.gov website; ‘Alaska Back To Russia‘ was a public campaign to give America’s largest state back to the nation from which it was purchased.

Satirical or nonsensical petitions on the White House website are not out of the norm but this petition was different, having gained more than 39,000 signature in a short period. Our investigation of those signing and posting revealed an odd pattern; the accounts varied considerably from other petitions and appeared to be the work of bots.

A closer look at those bots tied in closely with other social media and campaigns pushing Russian propaganda once before.”

Minute #31

“The final piece of Russia’s modern “active management” surfaced in the Summer of 2016 as hacked material were strategically leaked. The disclosure on WikiLeaks, GusiFer2.0, DC leaks demonstrated how hacks would power the influence system Russia had built so successfully the previous 2 years.

As an example, the evening of 30 July 2016, my colleagues and I watched as RT and Sputnik News simultaneous launch false stories of the US Air base in Intuit, Turkey being overrun by terrorists. Within minutes, pro-Russian social media aggregators and automated bots amplified this false news story. More than 4,000 tweets in the first 78 minutes after launching this false story pointed back to the ‘active measures’ we tracked in the previous 2 years. These previously-identified accounts almost simultaneously appeared from different geographical locations and communities amplified the fake news story in unison.”

Minute # 33:

“Today Russian hopes to win the Second Cold War thru the force of politics as opposed to the Politics of Force.   While Russian certainly seeks to promote western candidates sympathetic to their worldview and foreign policy objective, winning a single election is not their end goal.

Russia’s “active measures” hopes to topple democracies thru the pursuit of 5 complementary objectives:

  1. Undermine citizen confidence in democratic government
  2. Foment acts that acerbate political fissures {i.e. intensify the partisan division, and hostility btw special   interests groups and other factions}
  3. Erode trust btw citizens and elected official and democratic institutions
  4. Popularize Russian policy agenda within foreign populations
  5. Create general distrust or confusion over information sources by blurring the lines btw facts and fiction — a very pertinent issue today in our country

From these objectives, the Kremlin (as separate and different than the Russian people) can crumble democracies from the inside out.

Russian Tanks and Drivers on display

MSNBC host Rachel Maddow noted that Mr. Watts’ testimony provided useful and credible information on what the Russian govt was up to and how and then introduced the issue of whether Russian hackers had help from Americans collaborators in pulling off their cyber attacks and intrusions.

Ms. Maddow cited testimony in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee from a British cyber security expert and professor at the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, Thomas Rid. He provided new detail on how intense the attack was on the Clinton campaign in a one-month period last year from March 10th to April 7th.


{NOTE: Highly recommend <thehill.com> as a great source of print & video information this topic.}

Mr. Rid testified that hacker working for the GRU (Russian military intelligence service) made personalized and specific attacks on 109 members of her campaign staff. One particular staffer (Jack Sullivan) was attacked 14 separate times in one month by Russian military intelligence agents in personalized effort to compromise his electronic data.

At one point, Mr. Rid noted that:

“a good way to tell if a news article is fake is to evaluate the trustworthiness of the source. Mainstream news may be wrong, but it isn’t propaganda”.

Rachel Maddow’s next area of inquiry concerned the issue of Russian cyber attempts to interfere in and influence the outcome of the Republican primary process.  According to credible intelligence information already uncovered, Russia’s cyber intrusions didn’t just help Mr. Trump win the general presidential election, but they helped him win the Republican nomination as well.

Minute #35 ~ Continued testimony by Mr. Watts before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing:

“Through the end of 2015 and the start of 2016 the Russian government started pushing themes and messages seeking to influence the outcome of the US presidential election. They were in full swing during both the republican and democratic primary season and may have help sink the hopes of candidates more hostile to Russian interests long before the filed narrowed. Senator Rubio, in my opinion, you antidotally suffered from these efforts.”

@@@ NOTE: Senator Rubio himself confirmed in the hearing that his office was aware that he had been targeted by a Russian cyber attack}

Mr. Watts’ responded to questions by Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), Sen. Lankford asked “why did he  (Putin) think he could get away with it this time”, and noting that the Russian intelligence had been doing this for a long time across Europe, but was much more engaging this time in our election, and then asking ” why now Mr. Watts?”:

Minute #42:

“I think this answer is very simple and is what no one is really saying in this room, which is part of the reason ‘active measures’ worked in this US election is because the Commander and Chief (i.e. President Trump) has used Russian ‘active measures’ at times against his opponents.

On 14 August, 2016, his campaign chairman (Paul Manifort), cited the fake Incirlik story as a terrorist attack on CNN {see note below} and he used it as a talking point.

On 11 October, {Candidate} Trump stood on a stage and cited what appears to be a fake news story from Sputnik news that disappeared from the Internet. He (Mr. Trump) denies the intel from the United States about Russia. He claimed that the election could be rigged, that was the number 1 theme pushed by RT and Sputnik news wide outlets, all the way up to the election. {President Trump) has made claims of voter fraud, that President Obama is not a citizen, that Congressman Cruz is not a citizen.

So part of the reason that ‘active measures’ worked and it does today in terms of Trump Tower being wiretapped, is because they parrot the same line.”

Editor’s Note:
Incirlik is a NATO base in Adana, Turkey. There are 2,500 U.S. troops stationed there and 50 U.S. nuclear weapons stored.

On July 30th, RT and Sputnik News reported that 7,000 armed-police with heavy vehicles had surrounded Incirlik Air Base in Turkey.

The story had already been debunked the week before Mr. Manifort cited it, However, he claimed the lack of news coverage of this supposed terrorist attack proved that the US media ignored really important news, while it continued to focus unfounded criticism on Trump’s presidential campaign.


Rachel then interviewed Mr. Watts in a remote studio, asking if he saw the Trump campaign amplifying what the Russian hackers were doing and if so,address the  of motive and if there was any way to prove that they know what they were doing or was it “totally unwitting”.

Minute #44:

Mr. Watts: “I can’t prove that, but what is remarkable is the times of synchronization and essentially rapidity of taking messages that were put out by Russian propaganda outlets, and spinning them into campaign stumps or using them as talking points was quick.

{an aside by Mr. Watts on Republican operative Roger Stone, noting that Mr. Stone had communicated openly and publicly with GrosiFer2.0 (a major Russian hacker), and them Mr. Stone reported in a news interview that he “heard” Wikileaks has something big coming. This was 2 weeks before WikiLeaks big dump of private emails from Clinton and other Democratic staff members.}

Minute 44: Mr. Watts continues:

“Why go to a Russian intel operation, why go to Russian propaganda sites like RT news (state-operated Russia Today is TV,  cable news and website) and take their talk points to use against another American? Its curious and there are two parts. One, was he (Mr. Trump) complicit and coordinating? I think that’s unlikely but maybe his aides were at some point, and needs to be investigated.

The other part {of my answer} is opportunistic and why be opportunistic when your motto is “American First” but you’re clearly not putting America first if you are using Russian propaganda.”

RM asks Mr. Watts about Incirlik (NATO Air Base in Turkey) and the false story of a huge terrorist attack by 7,000 soldiers (which did NOT happen), but nonetheless was circulated by RT and other Russian propaganda outlets:

Minute #45:

“…. there were two things going on in Incirlik that night. One there was a small demonstration outside the gate and two there was increased security around the base because the Chairmen of the Chiefs of Staff was flying into Incirlik the next day, so there was increased security to tighten things up — this was after the coup in Turkey, if you’ll remember.

That story was then changed and manipulated into “there is a terrorist attack” that is hitting Incirlik Air Base, that there are “loose nukes” out there, {that the airbase} was being over-run in a Benghazi-type attack that comes out from overt outlets, state propaganda outlets — RT and Sputnik news simultaneously.

Within just a few minutes you see many amplifying accounts, which we call “grey accounts” — very pro-Russian accounts — websites that take those conspiracies, spin them even further and then amplify those stories with bots to get it into the top trending stories on Twitter, so that mainstream media react to it.

The way they do that is to use hash tags that create panic. {In this instance} they used “nuclear”, “media” — tying to get a reaction from media outlets like MSNBC — the third was “Trump” — to get Trump supporters to see — and “Benghazi”, was essentially communicating this story as “another Benghazi attack, trying to bring Trump supporters into this story to further promote the conspiracy”.

Minute #47: 

“The story came out at the end of July {30th} and was debunked — and I believe we published on the 8th of August — and then the 14th of August is when Paul Manifest went back and cited that story in an interview.

So why would you take a Russian propaganda line to begin with, in a story that had clearly been debunked in the days before, and then regurgitate that as your own talking point against the Clinton campaign?”

RM asks Mr. Watts what he things about the Congressional investigation of these issues ….

Minute # 52

“I think what interesting is I saw a really great bi-partisan committee yesterday when I was at the Senate. Great questions from both Republican and Democrats, very responsible, wasn’t what I expected, having watched the House investigation the week before, so I was a little bit nervous about going in there.

But every senator that was there yesterday I truly believe had America’s best interest at heart. I thought the Chairman and Co-Chairman did a great job of moderating that session and it did restore my hope a good bit that we’ll come to some resolution about what’s going on with the Russian meddling, and get a full picture of that.

RM: do you believe the FBI is up to this investigation?

Minute #54:

Short answer “YES

Mr. Watts has been a fellow on national security and the Middle East at the Foreign Policy Research Institute since 2011, and is a senior fellow at the Center For Cyber and Homeland Security at The George Washington University. He published research in November with Andrew Weisburd and JM Berger titled: “Trolling for Trump: How Russia Is Trying to Destroy Our Democracy.”

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