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Glenn Greenwald on “Dearth of Evidence” Linking Russia to WikiLeaks Release of DNC Emails

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We speak with Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Glenn Greenwald as the Senate Armed Services Committee holds a hearing on alleged Russian cyber-attacks and top intelligence officials are briefing President Obama on a review of evidence that Russia hacked the email servers of the Democratic National Committee. President-elect Trump will be briefed on Friday. This comes as he is supporting statements by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange that Russia was not the source for the mass leak of emails from the Democratic Party.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: This morning, the Senate Armed Services Committee holds a hearing on alleged Russian cyber-attacks, and top intelligence officials are briefing President Obama on a review of evidence that Russia hacked the email servers of the Democratic National Committee. BuzzFeed News reports the FBI never examined DNC servers before issuing its report. President-elect Trump will be briefed on Friday. This comes as he’s supporting statements by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange that Russia was not the source for the mass leak of emails from the Democratic Party. Assange made the claim during an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity.

JULIAN ASSANGE: We have said repeatedly over the last two months that our source is not the Russian government, and it is not a state party.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: On Wednesday, Trump tweeted, quote, “Julian Assange said 'a 14 year old could have hacked Podesta'–why was DNC so careless? Also said Russians did not give him the info!” Another tweet cited Assange saying U.S. media coverage on the issue was, quote, “very dishonest” and, Trump added, quote, “More dishonest than anyone knows.”

AMY GOODMAN: This followed Trump’s tweet on Tuesday that, quote, “The 'Intelligence'”—with “Intelligence” in quotes—”The 'Intelligence' briefing on so-called 'Russian hacking' was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!” unquote. The Wall Street Journal reports Trump is planning an overhaul of the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that will limit the power of the spy agencies but put more spies on the streets.

Well, for more, we’re joined by Glenn Greenwald, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, one of the founding editors of The Intercept. His latest article is headlined “WashPost Is Richly Rewarded for False News About Russia Threat While Public Is Deceived.” In it, he writes, “Any story that bolsters the prevailing D.C. orthodoxy on the Russia Threat, no matter how dubious, is spread far and wide. And then, as has happened so often, when the story turns out to be false or misleading, little or nothing is done to correct the deceitful effects.”

Glenn, welcome to Democracy Now! We have never seen Julian Assange in the news as much as he is—and cited, as he is being cited by President-elect Donald Trump. Talk about what we know at this point around the hacking. The briefings are being had now by President Obama today, President-elect Trump tomorrow. President-elect Trump is citing Julian Assange over the intelligence chiefs that will brief him tomorrow.

GLENN GREENWALD: What’s most remarkable, given how much discussion there has been, how many media reports have been devoted to this topic, what we actually know about any of this is very little. Of course, it’s possible that the Russian government was actually behind these hacks. Nobody has ever said that Russia didn’t do it. Nobody has ever said that this is the sort of thing Putin wouldn’t do. This is the kind of stuff that the U.S. and Russia have both done to one another and to multiple countries around the world for many decades, not just things like this, but far, far worse, in terms of interfering in other countries’ democracies and in their internal affairs.

The real issue, though, is that there has been a very extreme dearth of evidence to actually support the claims that have come from the U.S. government, largely, though not exclusively, through anonymous sources laundered through newspapers. People were very skeptical, rightly so, when Julian Assange came out and declared that his source was not the Russian government or any state actor. There’s good reasons for skepticism about whether Julian even knows that and, if he does know that, whether he’s accurately describing who his source is, when he has a duty to protect his source. Unfortunately, there is very little skepticism being applied to the agencies that have repeatedly misled and deceived and lied to the American public, which is the CIA and other intelligence agencies, who, when they’re not lying, are often simply wrong, particularly when it comes to things like attribution of a hack, which is a very difficult thing to pin down.

And so, you have a really consequential and dangerous issue, which is ratcheting up tensions between two nuclear-armed powers, who have decades of tensions, who have almost come to nuclear war on multiple occasions simply through misperception and miscommunication. And all of this is happening in a media environment that has proven over and over that they’ll print anything, no matter how false and dubious, if it feeds the hysteria about Vladimir Putin and the Russians. And so, this is a really toxic environment, and I think that journalists ought to be trying to rein it in and to demand some skepticism and restraint, and, most of all, insist on seeing evidence, conclusive evidence, publicly presented, that what the CIA and the other intelligence agencies are claiming about the Russian government and what they did here is actually correct.

AMY GOODMAN: But are you surprised to hear what—that what Assange has to say is being repeated by Donald Trump, the president-elect? I mean, go back to 2010, when Trump had a very different position on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. As he was preparing to appear on Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade’s radio program, Trump had this to say when the show host brought up WikiLeaks.

DONALD TRUMP: Well, I think it’s disgraceful.

BRIAN KILMEADE: You think it’s disgraceful?

DONALD TRUMP: I think this should be like death penalty or something.

AMY GOODMAN: “He should be given the death penalty or something,” Donald Trump said in 2010. At the time, Trump was host of the reality television series Celebrity Apprentice. So, Glenn Greenwald, can you talk about Trump’s change of heart?

GLENN GREENWALD: Sure. Trump’s change of heart is purely opportunistic. It’s obvious that that’s the case. Republicans hated WikiLeaks when they were publishing cables about what the Bush administration was doing in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the war crimes that were committed. They wanted them hung as traitors. They wanted Julian Assange hurled into the United States to be imprisoned or worse. There were lots of calls for his death on Fox News and elsewhere. And that was at the same time, by the way, that lots of Democrats and liberals were praising WikiLeaks for bringing needed transparency to the war crimes and the abuses of the Bush administration. Now both sides have done a complete reversal, for the same reasons we’ve seen over and over, which is partisan opportunism.

WikiLeaks became this year a leaker not of documents that reflected poorly on the Bush administration, but that reflected poorly on the Clinton campaign and Hillary Clinton. And as a result, Democrats went from supporting WikiLeaks and viewing them as heroic and important agents of transparency to viewing them as traitors and liars and people that ought to be convicted. And Republicans did exactly the opposite reversal, for exactly the same reasons, which is they went from viewing Julian Assange as a traitor to being a hero and an important conduit for information that the public has the right to know. And the polling, you can just look at it, and you see the Democrats completely reversing what their view of WikiLeaks is from 2010 to 2016, and you see exactly the same thing with Republicans, although it is amazing that not just Donald Trump, but even someone like Sarah Palin, who also called for WikiLeaks’s death, execution, who herself had her own emails published by WikiLeaks in the past, going on Facebook and saying, “I want to apologize to Julian Assange. He’s doing a really important service. And P.S., it’s really important to go see Oliver Stone’s film about Snowden.”

This is the ideological realignment that Trump’s victory has ushered in. It has caused everybody to be very disoriented, to lose their footing. And that’s what you’re seeing, is a lot of just grappling for positioning and people abandoning positions they’ve held for a really long time, for reasons of convenience and opportunism.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, we don’t know—to go back to the intelligence briefings scheduled for today and tomorrow, we don’t know what these briefings will reveal, but some have said that U.S. intelligence agencies have not published evidence for their findings on Russian involvement in the election for fear of exposing their sources. Do you think that’s a legitimate concern, since it’s one that journalists frequently invoke?

GLENN GREENWALD: It’s possibly legitimate, depending upon what the evidence is. But because we don’t know what the evidence is, all we can do is speculate. So, assume they have the most conclusive evidence possible, that they literally have a wiretap of Vladimir Putin personally on a telephone call or through an email ordering the hacks of the DNC and Podesta in order to help Donald Trump. Just let’s fantasize that that’s the evidence that they have. Is there a good reason for them not to want to publicly disclose that? Of course there’s a good reason, which is that it would blow their methodology for how they’ve accessed the communications at the highest level of the Kremlin.

The problem, however, is that whatever legitimacy they might have for wanting to keep this evidence a secret, we, as citizens, and we, as journalists, are then put into a position where we either have to blindly believe what it is they’re claiming—notwithstanding their long history of lying and deceit and error, we just say, “We appreciate the fact that you can’t show us this evidence. We’re willing to blindly put our faith in the accusations that you’ve made, and believe them to be true, even though you can’t show us the evidence”—or we say, “As citizens and as journalists, look, we understand that you can’t show us this evidence, but because we can’t see the evidence, we’re not willing to blindly assume these accusations to be true and then resurrect a Cold War and pursue aggressive and bellicose policies the way John McCain and Lindsey Graham and Democrats in the Senate want to do, because we don’t see evidence that what you’re claiming is true.” And I think that’s the dilemma, is that, as journalists and citizens, we need to see evidence before believing claims from institutions that have proven over and over that they’re willing to lie and mislead.

AMY GOODMAN: Glenn, we have to break, then we’ll come back to this conversation. Glenn Greenwald, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, one of the founding editors of The Intercept. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back with him in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in a minute.

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Glenn Greenwald: Mainstream U.S. Media is Culpable for Disseminating Fake & Deceitful News on Russia

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