As FBI’s Amerithrax Case Continues to Crumble, Bureau Digs in on North Korea Claims

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In ads released even as their claims about North Korea come under scrutiny, FBI tries to make cybersecurity Agents look like Eliot Ness.

Less than 10 days ago, Jim laid out yet more evidence that the FBI’s claimed explanation for the anthrax attack — that USAMRIID researcher Bruce Ivins not only perpetrated the attack, but did so acting alone — was scientifically problematic. So 13 years ago, anonymous sources blamed Iraq for the attack, 12 years ago they blamed Steven Hatfill, and 6 years ago, they started blaming Bruce Ivins. Probably, none of those claims are true.

The FBI still hasn’t solved one of the most alarming terrorist attacks in this country, an attempt to kill two sitting US Senators. Instead, it persists in a claim (versus Ivins) that doesn’t comport with the science, to say nothing of the other circumstantial evidence. FBI only ever sustained that claim by assuming — based on no known evidence — that a Lone Wolf, rather than conspirators, launched the attack.

Even as new evidence undermining the FBI’s obstinate claims about Ivins got released, the FBI has been making equally obstinate claims that North Korea is behind the Sony hack.

And then someone crashed North Korea’s Internet which, given how tiny it is, is the strategic equivalent of launching spitballs at a small group of North Korea’s elite. A truly awesome use of American power!

As I noted on Salon, even as the FBI was leaking its certitude to the big press that North Korea was behind the hack, Kim Zetter was pointing out all the reasons that made no sense.

Now, with a week of holiday cheers under their belts, more of the press is beginning to note all the experts questioning the FBI’s claim. Shane Harris describes the FBI “doubling down” on its original theory.

In spite of mounting evidence that the North Korean regime may not have been wholly responsible for a brazen cyberassault against Sony—and possibly wasn’t involved at all—the FBI is doubling down on its theory that the Hermit Kingdom solely bears the blame.

“We think it’s them,” referring to the North Koreans, an FBI spokesperson told The Daily Beast when asked to respond to reports from private investigators that other culprits were responsible. The latest evidence, from the cyberanalysis firm the Norse Corp., suggests that a group of six individuals, including at least one disgruntled ex-Sony employee, is behind the assault, which has humiliated Sony executives, led to threats of terrorist attacks over the release of a satirical film, and prompted an official response from the White House.

The FBI said in a separate statement to journalists on Monday that “there is no credible information to indicate that any other individual is responsible for this cyberincident.” When asked whether that left open the possibility that other individuals may have assisted North Korea or were involved in the assault on Sony, but not ultimately responsible for the damage that was done, the FBI spokesperson replied, “We’re not making the distinction that you’re making about the responsible party and others being involved.”

Time catalogs the alternatives to FBI’s theories.

And Politico notes that when one cybersecurity company, Norse, shared its analysis, the FBI refused to share its own data, as the company had expected.

The FBI says it is standing by its conclusions, but the security community says the agency has been open and receptive to help from the private sector throughout the Sony investigation.

Norse, one of the world’s leading cyber intelligence firms, has been researching the hack since it was made public just before Thanksgiving.

Norse’s senior vice president of market development said the quickness of the FBI’s conclusion that North Korea was responsible was a red flag.

“When the FBI made the announcement so soon after the initial hack was unveiled, everyone in the [cyber] intelligence community kind of raised their eyebrows at it, because it’s really hard to pin this on anyone within days of the attack,” Kurt Stammberger said in an interview as his company briefed FBI investigators Monday afternoon.

He said the briefing was set up after his company approached the agency with its findings.

Stammberger said after the meeting the FBI was “very open and grateful for our data and assistance” but didn’t share any of its data with Norse, although that was what the company expected.

It’s a bad thing, given how much evidence is out there about this hack, that the FBI won’t let more of its thinking be tested publicly.

Meanwhile, in a remarkable joining of opinion, both Jack Goldsmith and Moon of Alabama note that Obama may have wasted US credibility by so quickly accusing North Korea.

And NYT’s Ombud, Margaret Sullivan, admits that NYT too quickly repeated — and granted anonymity to — FBI’s flimsy claims.

[A]s a reader, Brad Johnson, noted in an email. He wrote: “Did NYT learn its lesson from the Iraq WMD debacle, or is the paper back to bad habits of writing stories from whole cloth based on anonymous White House and intelligence agency officials?”

Now that the matter of who was behind the hack is coming under more scrutiny, including in The Times (though with less prominence), those kinds of questions are even more germane.

One thing is certain: Anonymity continues to be granted to sources far more often than a last-resort basis would suggest.

Though Sullivan’s caution didn’t lead the Editorial Board to show any.

I’m glad people are now showing skepticism, even if it is too late to preserve American credibility (as if we had that anyway after StuxNet).

There’s one more factor that deserves notice here: the role of cybersecurity firms in laundering government propaganda.

One of the most pregnant observations in Zetter’s Countdown to Zero Day comes after Symantec published the first details implicating the US and Israel in the StuxNet attack. The Symantec team expected a bunch of others to jump in and start validating their work. Instead, they were met with almost complete silence. While Zetter didn’t say it explicitly, the implication was that the security industry is driven by its interest in retaining the good will of the US Government. Here, the first security firm to back the North Korea claim was Mandiant, the firm that served as a surrogate for claims against China.

And while in this case there is no lack of experts willing to push back against US claims, I just wonder whether at least some of the initial credulity on the North Korea claims arose because of the dominance of USG contractors among the earliest reports on the hack? While there are some equivalents in the WMD vein, the cyberindustry, in particular, seems particularly prone to serving as a cut-out for both poorly analyzed intelligence and even propaganda.

Ah well. It’s not like anyone is demanding FBI resume its hunt for the terrorist who might have killed two sitting US Senators. Why do I think this will be any different?

28 replies
  1. Francine Fein says:

    My totally unscientific, technologically uneducated, first thought was that this was a brilliant marketing scheme — Sony got lots of media attention and more people were interested in seeing the movie than it would have gotten otherwise.

  2. bevin says:

    The speed at which the US government is burning its credibility suggests a deep seated death wish- a secret desire not to be consulted or taken seriously- by an Empire which cannot bear the suspense of waiting for its next humiliation.
    Nothing the government says is true:
    Saddam did not have WMDs
    Ghaddaffi was not massacring ‘his own people’ nor was he planning to do so.
    Assad did not launch poison gas attacks on civilians.
    Putin was not responsible for the current bloody chaos in Ukraine- the US was.
    The self defense militias in the Donbass did not shoot down a Malaysian airliner.
    North Korea did not sink a South Korean warship three or four years ago…etc etc. (Let’s not even talk about the Iranian plot to blow up a restaurant in Washington.)

    The worrying thing is that no sooner does one of these transparently false-often on the face of it ludicrously so- claims get vomited out, normally by an anonymous “official”, than Obama or Kerry publicly claims it to be a casus belli.

    And there aren’t six sane voices in Congress to contradict them. It is pitiful.

    • William says:

      A wonderful comment by Bevins. One thing might be changed. Instead of “not six sane voices in congress,” I would suggest that the number of self-serving cowards in congress easily equals the number of nuts (insane). The U.S. congress has long since lost its credibility among the rather small group of informed citizens. Only “les gens du menu,” the “parallel” i.e., the mis-led and lied to masses still believe this government.

  3. bloopie2 says:

    Re: The Wal-Mart killing in Idaho where a 2-year-old reached into her mother’s purse and pulled the trigger on Mom’s gun, killing her. The victim’s father-in-law, Terry Rutledge, told The Associated Press that Veronica Rutledge “was a beautiful, young, loving mother.” “She was not the least bit irresponsible,” Terry Rutledge said.

    Absolute fucking liar.

    • P J Evans says:

      She surely hadn’t learned that small children will play with anything they can reach, so it’s important to make sure anything that’s breakable or hazardous is out of reach or in a locked cabinet or cupboard. That includes purses: anyone who thinks kids won’t get into Mom’s purse is probably not ready for parenthood.

      • Don G. says:

        The child was possessed by the devil. There’s no other explanation. The mother was only packing heat as an expression of her second mendmunt rites and of course there’s no use doing that with a gun that’s not loaded.
        luv from Canada.

  4. Don Bacon says:

    My have wasted US credibility?
    For credibility to be wasted, it must first exist.
    In other news, the US (and its lap-puppy Australia) vetoed Palestine statehood, which gives Israel the right to take over the part of Palestine it doesn’t yet control. This makes, what, 43 times since 1972 that the US has killed resolutions seeking to affirm international law and stop assorted Israeli actions in the occupied Palestinian territories.
    There is no credibility in Washington. There is money.

  5. x174 says:

    translucent post. the range of your writing is amazing, m: from the most sunless Vanthian tractates to this crystal-clear lucidity. and on what a fiendlishly murky matter: 9/11 anthrax.

    what a marvel it would be to see some modern-day sherlock holmes get his/her craws into such hoary arcana…ah, yes, the american credibilty gap. they believe that they can can shake up the national memory like an etch-a-sketch and redraw the entire hadronic substructure of the universe if they ever felt they needed to.

    nice work jim and marcy; it’s great when stubborn fact intrudes. what a feeling of weightfulness. it’s as through reality has momentarily infused itself back into this hellish world of american falsehood and violence.

    lucidly written, well-researched, fact-intensive prose can cut through the most refractory fiction.

  6. Don Bacon says:

    North Korea is the gift that keeps on giving to the US national security state. The cold war is over and there’s no geopolitical need to retain the two-state Korean peninsula, but the DPRK keeps paying off for the MIC and for scary stories like the “Korean hacking.”
    Plus without the enduring North Korea “threat” there would be no real need to station US bombers in South Korea, one air-hour from Shanghai and Beijing. Gotta get ready for the ‘big one.’
    The FBI got the memo from State — dump on North Korea. It’s national policy, plus it provides a reason to pump up the Pentagon budget as it distracts the citizens.

  7. RUKidding says:

    USA has credibility? Since when?
    Feebs are Feebs. Anyone who believes *anything* that the Feebs say is a fool, who is – as this Sony clusterf*ck proved – very very very very very easily parted with their money… all in the name of being patriotic-y ‘n stuff ‘n FreeDUMBs, blargh.
    No doubt the Alphabets were “in” on the Anthrax scheme. Who else? Surely not some hapless prole, no matter how disgruntled. Anyway, 9/11 was an Inside Job, so it stands to reason that the Anthrax thing was just part of that.
    The whole Sony bs was, somewhat in retrospect, of some interest. At another blog yesterday, someone listed the timeline of the Marketing hype over this and when various Toadies to the .001% in the District of Criminals went live with their vehement accusations against the alleged perfidious horror of DPRK taking away our precious FreeDumbs ‘n stuff. It’s quite the rogues gallery, it is, including, of course the head Doofus Obama, plus Madame I’m So Mad at the CIA I could Spit DiFi, and of course, let me shove my giant foot in my giant mouth Kerry. What a load of *sshole fools, but highly compensated no doubt.
    I suspect that someone did truly hack Sony. They had had security issues for a while, and it’s my understanding that the Chief GoofBalls at Sony pretty much ignored it – my guess is that they wanted all the money for themselves and didn’t want to pay IT proles to keep their stupid company secure. Naturally. Why pay for that when it’s bonus time?
    When the hack happened, it opened up Sony to big-time liability. I don’t know who scratched whose back, but somehow Obama and the Feebs were brought in like the Calvary fighting the Indians… sadly, they look more like Gen Custer than anyone else. What a bunch of buffoons or maroons, take your pick.
    The other thing of some interest is how quickly Boobus Americanus drank their Kool Aid like good little doobies and dutifully lined to whine and complain about mean bully Kim Jung Un depriving them of their bounden “rights” to pay big buck$ to watch a crap-fest of a “movie.” Boo hoo hoo… and then, et voila: of course it did open on Xmas Day (no WAR on Xmas for us, DPNK, thou shalt not deprive us of our commercialized bad taste and gluttony, thankyewverymuch) to much strum und drang and useless eaters crowing about how they’d “show” Kim Jung Un just how “manly” and patriotic-y they were, so there, nyah nyah, nyah…
    I must say that this latest legend from the Feebs is pretty much scraping the bottom of the barrel, and it’s hard to imagine how much lower Team USA can sink. Pathetic doesn’t begin to cover it.
    We’ll never find out the true origins of the Anthrax scare, but it’s clearly turned into yet another cottage industry for the Feebs – booyah!

    • galljdaj says:

      What is you definition of propaganda with who does it with refusals to provide ‘Proof’?
      Clearly Russia has tried to bring the US and the lackies to the Table of Provings, and so has Malasia.

      So John B. , do you also believe the lacky media giants’ news?

  8. Don Bacon says:

    Gerry Spence, the famous trial lawyer:
    — “I found that the minions of the law–the special agents of the FBI–to be men who proved themselves not only fully capable, but also utterly willing to manufacture evidence, to conceal crucial evidence and even to change the rules that governed life and death if, in the prosecution of the accused, it seemed expedient to do so.”
    From Freedom to Slavery, p. 27

  9. Peter says:

    Evidence has been accumulating that the airliner over Ukraine was shot down via jets strafing it. The Donbass rebels did not have these.

  10. GeorgyOrwell says:

    The Anthrax attacks were perpetrated by the same people who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks: Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.

    They were both false flag attacks and the official story of both attacks are a lie from beginning to end.

    If is astonishing to me that fourteen years later anybody could possibly have concluded otherwise. After nine books on 9/11 by David Ray Griffin and 2,300 Architects and Engineers laying out the exhaustive case for explosives in all three buildings, one would have to be so detached or downright dense to not have at the very least become deeply suspicious of what we have been told.

  11. John B. says:

    Listen closely galljdaj, I make no claims about knowing who shot down the plane..I have read closely all accounts I have come across, some by popular media and some by other sources. I am asking a plain and simple question: if you say that the Ukraine rebels didn’t shoot the plane down, I am asking who did? Logically, there really is only two realistic choices and usually the simplest explanation is the correct one…(William of Ockham)

    • bmaz says:

      I don’t know who shot down MH-17, and I think the evidence to date is muddled, and in some instances intentionally and deceptively so. But if I was forced to bet, my money would be on the Ukranian government, not the “rebels” or Russians.

    • galljdaj says:

      Well John B., I read closely your post to me, And it failed to answer any question I asked you! Make your comprehension is blind sided, or you have some bias going on. I any case try to answer the questions.

  12. John B. says:

    You must be an idiot gall…only two possibilities of who shot the plane and Bmaz as usual rightly names the other possibility to the Ukraine rebels armed and supplied by the Russian army…as he sates, the evidence is not clear and looks to be intentionally muddled…it can’t be that hard to figure out who did it but for some reason “popular media” isn’t saying…

    • galljdaj says:

      “idiot” seems to be on your lil cells, do you get them often? Your ‘trying to answer my questions was an absolute failure!(maybe your drunk writing).

      Or, your too cowardly to provide your definition of propaganda and your beliefs on the giant news media.

      • bmaz says:

        Alright, both of you stop and treat each other, and other commenters here, with respect. You can disagree without this type of interaction.

    • bmaz says:

      Excellent point. While we may never really know, the gross amount of evidence against the manipulated and bullshit “Official US Position” is incredibly immense.

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