Isikoff Spins His Own Russian Conspiracy Theories -- Again

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Isikoff Spins His Own Russian Conspiracy Theories -- Again
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
Isikoff Spins His Own Russian Conspiracy Theories -- Again
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
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The latest breaking news from the Deep State is (wait for it!) ... THE RUSSIANS DID IT!

No, I’m not talking about the half-baked idea of the Russians getting Donald Trump elected president by buying a few Facebook ads. That's yesterday's news. I'm talking about how the rascally Russians planted the story that Seth Rich was supposedly murdered to retaliate for him leaking DNC documents to WikiLeaks. That's what is alleged in the latest agitprop hit piece by Michael Isikoff, chief investigative correspondent for Yahoo News.

You remember Isikoff, right? He's the first reporter who wrote about the Steele dossier in an effort to undermine the Trump candidacy. In a Sept. 23, 2016, piece for Yahoo, Isikoff broke the Deep State-sponsored story that Trump campaign adviser Carter Page had "opened up private communications with senior Russian officials" (he hadn't) and cited unnamed "intelligence reports" as the source of his information. It turns out he was writing covertly about the now-discredited Steele dossier, and then the intelligence community infamously used Isikoff's report to "independently" verify the salacious gossip in the dossier in a variation on the carnival barker's shell game.

It should be noted that Isikoff acknowledged in March of this year that the Mueller Report had the effect of disproving the validity of the dossier, which he had relied on for his own reporting:

“I think one of the reasons people were so surprised by the Mueller finding is that it undercuts almost everything that was in the dossier, which postulated a well-developed conspiracy between the Russians and the Trump campaign,” he told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes.

But let’s move ahead to Isikoff’s latest breathless reporting on the dangers of Russians in dark places. His new article at Yahoo News is titled “Conspiracyland: The true origins of the Seth Rich conspiracy theory,” but it might just as well be titled “The Russians stole the election from Hillary Clinton after all.”

Rich was a 27-year-old employee of the Democratic National Committee when he was shot and killed on July 10, 2016, while walking in a well-to-do neighborhood in Washington, D.C., at 4:20 a.m. The murder was attributed to a failed robbery, but Rich had valuables on his body that were never taken. That fact, plus his access to data about the inside workings of the DNC, along with his progressive leanings, led to the development of a conspiracy theory that Rich had been silenced by operatives working on behalf of the Clinton campaign because he had found incriminating evidence against Bill and Hillary Clinton.

It is this “conspiracy theory” that Isikoff lays at the feet of Russian intelligence agents who, for unknown reasons, were allegedly working furiously to ensure that Hillary Clinton would not be elected. His claim is as follows:

“Russia’s foreign intelligence service, known as the SVR, first circulated a phony ‘bulletin’ — disguised to read as a real intelligence report — about the alleged murder of the former DNC staffer on July 13, 2016, according to the U.S. federal prosecutor who was in charge of the Rich case. That was just three days after Rich, 27, was killed in what police believed was a botched robbery while walking home to his group house in the Bloomingdale neighborhood of Washington, D.C., about 30 blocks north of the Capitol.

“The purported details in the SVR account seemed improbable on their face: that Rich, a data director in the DNC’s voter protection division, was on his way to alert the FBI to corrupt dealings by Clinton when he was slain in the early hours of a Sunday morning by the former secretary of state’s hit squad.

“Yet in a graphic example of how fake news infects the internet, those precise details popped up the same day on an obscure website, whatdoesitmean.com, that is a frequent vehicle for Russian propaganda. The website’s article, which attributed its claims to ‘Russian intelligence,’ was the first known instance of Rich’s murder being publicly linked to a political conspiracy.”

There are two points of Isikoff’s reporting that raise questions.

First of all, he claims that the whatdoesitmean.com website is a tool of Russian intelligence and that it spread the Seth Rich “conspiracy theory” to dispel the U.S. intelligence agencies’ “official theory” that Russia had hacked Clinton’s emails and funneled them to WikiLeaks. How, then, does he explain the June 1 report on whatdoesitmean.com that states definitively: “A stunning report circulating in the Kremlin today released by the Security Council (SC) says that a little over 12 hours ago, President Putin ordered the release of a single Hillary Clinton email that is part of the tens-of-thousands of them currently held in the possession of Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR).”

How exactly did the Russian intelligence agencies that supposedly operate whatdoesitmean.com under the pseudonym Sorcha Faal think that they could shift blame to Rich for the theft of the DNC emails after they had already publicly blamed themselves for the theft of the Clinton emails? Seems like a waste of time, doesn’t it?

More importantly, Isikoff seems to give full credit to the claims of Sorcha Faal on July 13 that this anonymous internet tipster is actually in possession of “[a] somber Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) report circulating in the Kremlin” that claimed Rich was assassinated by a “hit team” posing as FBI agents.

This is central to Isikoff’s theory and yet it undermines the legitimacy of his reporting completely. Isikoff argues that his breaking news is “the previously unreported role of Russian intelligence in creating and fostering one of the most insidious conspiracy theories to arise out of the 2016 election.”

Yet the July 13 report at whatdoesitmean.com already established just three days after Rich’s murder that the source of the conspiracy theory was none other than Russian intelligence. So what news exactly is Isikoff breaking?

The only legitimately new piece of the puzzle would be the claim by Deborah Sines, the former assistant U.S. attorney in charge of the Rich case, that in the course of her investigation she had learned from the U.S. intelligence community about the Russian role in spreading the rumors. In the podcast for Conspiracyland, Isikoff claims the following:

“Sines was puzzled about the wild stories swirling around the murder and she wanted to know where and how they started. … It’s worth keeping in mind at this point nothing about the Russian role behind these stories was publicly known. Sines decided to use her security clearance to ask the U.S. intelligence community to help her figure the puzzle out.”

Isikoff is factually wrong when he states that “nothing about the Russian role” was known at this point. As we have established already, the Russian role had been publicly acknowledged on July 13, 2016, at whatdoesitmean.com. If it takes a security clearance to find out what is publicly posted on a website, then maybe that is the real breaking news.

According to Isikoff, though, the news is that “Sines discovered ... a fake bulletin circulated by the Russian SVR, the Kremlin’s version of the CIA, that was intercepted by the U.S. intelligence agencies. Written to read like a real intelligence report, it made the exact same allegations about Seth Rich on the exact same day as the whatdoesitmean.com story.”

Sines claims there was an “original report” that she had access to, and Isikoff plays it up as if it were real news, but there is no evidence provided that such an SVR report was actually intercepted, and Isikoff’s implication that the timing of the report is somehow mysterious because it just might have been the inspiration for the whatdoesitmean.com story is ludicrous at best.

That “mysterious” connection is yet another example of “fake news” pushed by duplicitous and/or incredibly naive reporters like Isikoff. The story on whatdoesitmean.com was not secretly “inspired” by the Russian intelligence “bulletin,” but most likely was itself the source of the fictitious “original report.”

We have two choices. We either believe that the Sorcha Faal order of “nuns” that claims to run the whatdoesitmean.com website is indeed in possession of same-day secret bulletins from Russian intelligence agencies, or we believe that the website’s authors are creating these “secret bulletins” by themselves to establish fake authority for their ever more fabulous claims of worldwide conspiracies.

If the SVR really wanted to inculcate a distrust in the Clintons, the Democratic Party, and the U.S. government, does anyone really think it would do so by attributing the bizarre theory to itself? If so, the Russian disinformation campaign needs to learn a thing or two about reliable sources.

There is one more piece of evidence that is even more damning of the reliability of Isikoff’s “breaking news” report. A simple date search of the Internet from July 10 to July 12, 2016, quickly reveals that the conspiracy theory about Seth Rich’s death did not originate with either the SVR or whatdoesitmean.com. A lengthy post by kurtchella at the reddit discussion website on July 12, 2016 — a full day before the whatdoesitmean.com post — lays out an eight-point summary of why the author considered Rich’s death “suspicious.”

While carefully avoiding any potentially libelous statements, kurtchella details a variety of reasons why Seth Rich might have made himself a target of the Clinton machine and even goes so far as to cite without explanation another death linked to the Clintons:

“One of the earliest rumored victims of the ‘Clinton body count’ was Mary Mahoney, who died in a similar fashion as she was about to testify against Bill Clinton (and who had nothing taken from her body at the time of her death).” 

Finally, in point 8 of kurtchella’s preliminary “indictment,” he notes, “There is still a possibility that Russia/Julian Assange has DNC information and could be planning to leak it to the public in time for the convention. Mr. Rich could have known of this.”

In his conclusion, kurtchella risks a speculative opinion that investigative reporter Isikoff somehow overlooked in his rush to blame the Russians for the theories about Seth Rich’s death:

“If anyone could have been the one to break the news on possible election fraud, it would have been Mr. Rich. If his death somehow is confirmed as part of corrupt Clinton collusion, then it is important to know that with the major players involved, Mr. Rich would have posed the least significant threat, at least in comparison to Vladimir Putin or those high up in the Washington D.C establishment. Many questions remain on my mind that are, and will probably forever, remain unanswered. I am just what some would dismissingly label as an ‘armchair activist’ or ‘Reddit lawyer.’ Perhaps I have an inherent bias in actual democracy, as you can see in my post history that I've been a staunch supporter of Senator Sanders. The context, but mostly imminent timing of the loss of this young insider seems to go beyond ‘pure coincidence’, despite the number of robberies in the D.C area lately. I believe that Hillary Clinton's team or the DNC could have colluded to dispose of this young man who happened to be exposed to a little too much information.”

That’s a reasonably coherent “conspiracy theory,” and a lot less ludicrous than the provably manufactured account at whatdoesitmean.com that the Clinton “hit team” was later cornered and captured near the White House by “federal police forces.”

As we know, the Mueller Report dismissed the idea that Seth Rich was the source of the DNC emails published by WikiLeaks, and Isikoff accepts unquestioningly the claim by Mueller that the Russians had hacked the DNC and sent the emails to WikiLeaks via Guccifer 2.0 on July 14, four days after the death of Rich.

Yet, as Aaron Maté demonstrated conclusively for RealClearInvestigations, there is nothing certain at all about the assertion that Guccifer 2.0 is the source of the hacked emails. The timeline in Mueller’s report undermines his own conclusions. Maté reports, for instance:

“As the Mueller report confirms, on June 12, 2016, Assange told an interviewer, ‘We have upcoming leaks in relation to Hillary Clinton, which is great.’ But Mueller reports that ‘WikiLeaks's First Contact With Guccifer 2.0 and DC Leaks’ comes two days after that announcement. … If Assange's ‘First Contact’ with DC Leaks came on June 14, and with Guccifer 2.0 on June 22, then what was Assange talking about on June 12?”

Yet for the mainstream media, it is incontrovertible truth that the Russians provided the emails to Assange even though he has denied it categorically and repeatedly offered to testify to that effect. Of course, if anyone knows whether Seth Rich had a role in helping WikiLeaks, it would be Assange.

In an Aug. 9, 2016, interview with a Dutch broadcaster, Assange asserted without qualification: “A whistleblower’s going to significant efforts to get us material and often very significant risks. There’s a 27-year-old that works for the DNC who was shot in the back, murdered, just a few weeks ago for unknown reasons as he was walking down a street in Washington.”

When pressed, Assange would not confirm that Rich was indeed a WikiLeaks source, but said, “I’m suggesting our sources take risks.” We can’t prove that Rich was a “whistleblower,” but that is certainly the implication of Assange’s original statement.

By Isikoff’s standards, that three-year-old story is breaking news. It doesn’t prove anything, but it should be good for a few hundred thousand clickbait hits, right?

Frank Miele, the retired editor of the Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell Mont., is a columnist for RealClearPolitics. His new book — “The Media Matrix: What If Everything You Know Is Fake” — is available at Amazon. Visit him at HeartlandDiaryUSA.com to read his daily commentary or follow him on Facebook @HeartlandDiaryUSA or on Twitter @HeartlandDiary.



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