Charges of Russian Interference in U.S. Election Adds to Fear of New Cold War

Posted Oct. 19, 2016

MP3 Interview with Mark Ames, journalist, author and a founding editor of the satirical Moscow biweekly "The eXile", conducted by Scott Harris

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After weeks of similar accusations made by Hillary Clinton’s campaign, the Obama administration publicly charged that the Russian government had stolen and then leaked emails that were taken from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman, John Podesta. In a statement released on Oct. 7, James Clapper Jr., director of national intelligence, said Russia had given the emails to WikiLeaks and other websites that were intended to “interfere with the U.S. election process.” For months, government officials had pointed fingers at an individual who goes by the online name, Guccifer 2.0, who they say is associated with Russian intelligence, and was responsible for the hacking of U.S. emails.

Following the official statement, Vice President Joe Biden went a step further by asserting in a TV interview that the U.S. is now working on plans to covertly retaliate against the Russian cyber-attacks. The escalation of hostile rhetoric between Washington and Moscow over the hacked emails follows unsuccessful U.S. –Russian diplomatic efforts to negotiate a cease-fire in the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo, friction over Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and the Kremlinbacked rebel war in Eastern Ukraine.

Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with journalist and author Mark Ames, a founding editor of the satirical Moscow biweekly "The eXile". Here, Ames who has lived and worked in Russia on and off for 14 years, explains why he’s skeptical about widely accepted claims that the Russian government is responsible for the hacks of DNC and Hillary Clinton's campaign emails – and the danger he sees of a developing new cold war.

MARK AMES: We're ramping up a very serious and potentially dangerous Cold War over these accusations. I want actual evidence. So far, the evidence I've seen that everyone was waving around was apparently in the metadata on some of these hacks. Somebody called themselves in Cyrillic letters, that is the Russian alphabet. He went by the name Felix Dzerzhinsky, which was the name of the founder of the Cheka, which became the KGB. Now that being used as evidence, that that was actually was a GRU Russian military intelligence agent, because he uses his nickname as the founder the Cheka, is to me so absurd, it would be like an American spy "mole" "moling" his way into North Korea, and using as his supersecret name, Allen Dulles, or something. You know, I mean it's ...

BETWEEN THE LINES: Allen Dulles, being the founder of the CIA, right?

MARK AMES: Yeah, one of the early directors and co-founders.

You have to know nothing about Russia to think that is some sort of plausible evidence. I have a lot of questions, too. I mean, according to the timeline, according to these stories in various major newspapers, the FBI first noticed the hacks in June of 2015 and first told the DNC two months later. So, now, if the Russians are trying to make sure that Hillary Clinton doesn't win, if this is not a Clinton campaign strategy to deflect from what is actually in the emails, and make it seem like you're a traitor if you report them – if the Russians are actually trying to keep her out and they started hacking six months, seven months before the first caucuses, why didn't they do a single thing to help Bernie Sanders, ever? Why didn't they do anything up through April when it was still a contested primary, even up through early May to help Bernie Sanders? This is a guy who spent his honeymoon in Soviet Russia in a banya (sauna) with Soviet local officials in Yaroslavl? Obviously, this is a guy you'd want to help. Why would you wait 'til Donald Trump, this crazy buffoon? You know, she runs against him, the only person she can probably beat on the Republican side.

So none of this just makes any sense to me.

BETWEEN THE LINES: What's your view of the concern by a growing number of people here in the United States that there's a new serious Cold War brewing between the United States and Russia given the charges and countercharges about interference in the U.S. election by Moscow, given the history of tensions with Moscow over the annexation of Crimea and the border war in Ukraine. And then of course, you've got the failed diplomacy to reach a cease-fire in Syria or to end that horrible war. What are your concerns about a new Cold War?

MARK AMES: I think it's potentially very serious. I mean, I get that part of this heating up this sort of new Cold War thing on the Clinton side and Clinton supporters is to ... "campaigns and politics are rough business," and I get that. But I also think it's a genuine window into what to expect in the future. I'm assuming Hillary Clinton is going to win and I'm assuming that this not going to be the end of this. I'm assuming that this is going to be what we have to look forward to for the next eight years and very tense relations with the Russians and you know, I find it extremely dangerous because it seems like there's no strong voice pushing back against it. Certainly within the establishment, there's nobody pushing back, nobody wants to be seen for obvious reasons as a defender of Vladimir Putin. It's not like ... I mean, the Soviets at least stood for equality, equality of incomes, gender equality and different things like that, at least on paper.

You know, what does the Kremlin stand for? It's a very neoliberal, conservative regime. So I don't think there's any pushback and I think it's unleashing a lot of really crazy forces in this country. You know, revanches cold warriors who never went away. I've seen that all my time out in Russia and since coming back.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Who in your mind are the main beneficiaries if the U.S. and Russia reignite a new Cold War?

MARK AMES: The defense industry and the military industrial complex and military intelligence complex. No doubt about it.

There was a push by (former Secretary of Defense Chuck) Hagel shortly before he was put into retirement to enact major cuts in 2014. Go back and reread the articles about it. The military was going to be cut down to its smallest size since the end of World War II, or since before World War II. There were going to be serious cuts and now that's over.

And frankly that helps the Russians, too. I can tell their pride was very wounded by their experience under (former Russian President Boris) Yeltsin. They were humiliating years; they were essentially colonized and run from outside. And they didn't matter and they were considered a joke. And there were people in the Kremlin who A)I think liked – and I think Putin even said this, they liked the fact that we talk about them as if they "count" and as if they are a "menace" and a rival. They like mattering.

Number Two, it's good for their defense industry. But, that said, their defense budget, I think the last two years is in the $65 billion range, ours is about $600 billion. And because their economy has been hurting, the budgets for the next three years, they're cutting their military six percent per year, according to the published reports.

So, I think cold warriors on both sides; military industrial complex on both sides. And then neocons in general, they love this. The neocons in Washington absolutely love this. They feel relevant again.

For more information, visit The Exile at exiledonline.com/?s=mark%20ames; Mark Ames on Pando at pando.com/author/markamespando; and War Nerd podcast with Mark Ames and Gary Brecher at patreon.com/radiowarnerd.

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