Even (Especially?) the FBI Is Susceptible to Fake News

The WaPo has an utterly dispiriting story providing more detail on a document first revealed in this big NYT story on Jim Comey. Here’s how the NYT described it:

During Russia’s hacking campaign against the United States, intelligence agencies could peer, at times, into Russian networks and see what had been taken. Early last year, F.B.I. agents received a batch of hacked documents, and one caught their attention.

The document, which has been described as both a memo and an email, was written by a Democratic operative who expressed confidence that Ms. Lynch would keep the Clinton investigation from going too far, according to several former officials familiar with the document.

Read one way, it was standard Washington political chatter. Read another way, it suggested that a political operative might have insight into Ms. Lynch’s thinking.


The document complicated that calculation, according to officials. If Ms. Lynch announced that the case was closed, and Russia leaked the document, Mr. Comey believed it would raise doubts about the independence of the investigation.

But as the WaPo reveals, the document was not an email, but rather a Russian document purportedly reporting on email. And while in August the FBI deemed the document a hoax, it took five months — covering the all important July announcement ending the Hillary investigation — to get to that point.

The document, obtained by the FBI, was a piece of purported analysis by Russian intelligence, the people said. It referred to an email supposedly written by the then-chair of the Democratic National Committee, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), and sent to Leonard Benardo, an official with the Open Society Foundations, an organization founded by billionaire George Soros and dedicated to promoting democracy.

The Russian document did not contain a copy of the email, but it described some of the contents of the purported message.


Comey had little choice, these people have said, because he feared that if Lynch announced no charges against Clinton, and then the secret document leaked, the legitimacy of the entire case would be questioned.

From the moment the bureau received the document from a source in early March 2016, its veracity was the subject of an internal debate at the FBI. Several people familiar with the matter said the bureau’s doubts about the document hardened in August when officials became more certain that there was nothing to substantiate the claims in the Russian document. FBI officials knew the bureau never had the underlying email with the explosive allegation, if it ever existed.

Yet senior officials at the bureau continued to rely on the document as part of their justification for how they handled the case before and after the election.

As the WaPo lays out, the FBI hadn’t even asked Loretta Lynch, much less the other participants in the alleged emails, about them before Comey used the document to justify his July statement on the investigation into Hillary’s emails. They simply relied on it, in spite of the way a Debbie Wasserman Schultz and George Soros screams of the worst kind of fevered misinformation that circulated last year. Or, at a minimum, they acted based on the assumption that they couldn’t combat evidently fake news were it to leak.

We talk a lot about dumb ordinary voters who can’t sort through PizzaGate and Seth Rich conspiracies on their own.

But even the FBI, with all the investigative tools you can imagine, was unable to sort through fake news. And that had a role in one of the most significant events in last year’s election.

18 replies
  1. harpie says:

    “utterly dispiriting” is not how I would describe it. And I’m not giving the FB f*@#$#king I the benefit of the tiniest doubt about supposedly being “unable to sort through fake news”.


    • harpie says:

      So NOT surprising:

      CNN [1:29pmET; 5/26/17] 
      Sources: Comey acted on Russian intelligence he knew was fake

      Then-FBI Director James Comey knew that a critical piece of information relating to the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email was fake — created by Russian intelligence — but he feared that if it became public it would undermine the probe and the Justice Department itself, according to multiple officials with knowledge of the process.

    • harpie says:

      From the article:

      Sources close to Comey tell CNN he felt that it didn’t matter if the information was accurate, because his big fear was that if the Russians released the information publicly, there would be no way for law enforcement and intelligence officials to discredit it without burning intelligence sources and methods.

      Matthew Miller:

      This is an utterly ridiculous explanation.

      • Rayne says:

        It can make sense under specific conditions. As an example, perhaps like the OPM hack other government systems were breached. Imagine the means by which it was definitively determined Lynch’s emails and attachments had been manipulated disclosed a breach of a nature worse than the OPM hack — and closing the breach as well as nabbing the hackers tipped off the perps who might dump real and highly sensitive intelligence about operations into the open? Kind of like the op Trump spilled about to the Russians?

        I can’t give a shit about the anti-Hillary faction right now. When HRC — the former Secretary of State as well as a former presidential candidate — called it “an attack on our country,” we have an obligation to look at this differently. What would an attack look like that involved manipulating the AG’s email content?

  2. scribe says:

    I guess this means even Hospital Step Heroes (TM) can, and sometimes do, get pwned.

    Hard to believe in the months between March and July the FBI didn’t contact Wasserman-Schultz and Benardo to ask them the simplest of questions:
    1. “Do you write [the other of the pair]?
    2. “Did you write something like [what’s quoted/paraphrased in the document]?
    And so on.

  3. GKJames says:

    Could it be that the FBI knowingly used that document to justify its position?  There’s zero evidence that Comey’s dumb. But there’s plenty of evidence that he’s a calculating politician. He wanted a certain outcome. More than that, though, he wanted to prove his virtue; his purported fear of Republicans in Congress was the ticket.

  4. lefty665 says:

    The Wash Post article indicates Comey and his defenders used, and are continuing to use, this to defend his indefensible actions in July.  Veracity is immaterial to an alibi. It comes under the heading of “We had this, therefore no prudent person would do anything other than what we did”. There was never any doubt Hillary was the administration’s candidate from Obama down. There is every reason to think the fix was in. The Russian document is simply a convenient shield to hide behind.

    On the other hand, has there ever been any reason to believe the FBI is any brighter than “dumb ordinary voters”?

    While citing no origins, the Wash Post says “No one familiar with it asked The Post to withhold details about its origins to safeguard the source.” The NYT was a little more forthcoming citing “intelligence agencies” and the ability to “peer, at times, into Russian networks”. Suppose the source was the NSA whose motto could be “Russian COMINT since 1952”?

    The Wash Post also quotes unnamed FBI sources “The source that provided the document, they said, had previously supplied other information that the FBI was also unable to corroborate.” FBI being a little pissy with its IC comrade? The FBI’s inability to corroborate intelligence provided by other agencies is not a new issue, and it is generally not a problem with the information.

  5. Charles says:

    Speaking of fake news, relying on Sarah Isgur Flores is a good way of becoming misinformed.




    Also note this line in the story: “was instructed not to list meetings with foreign dignitaries and their staff connected with his Senate activities.” (emphasis added)


    I’m not saying he lied on his SF-86. I’m not saying he told the truth. I’m saying the denials might not be worth the pixels they’re printed on.


    Apologies for the excursion OT.

    • harpie says:

      In case you’re interested…
      Thomas Rid‏Verified account @RidT  2h 

      Just out: @citizenlab MUST-READ report on Russian espionage & active measures—fresh evidence on targeting, forgeries     / With extraordinary detective work in there—the Tiny.cc reversing and discovery is simply stunning, huge respect @CyberClues @RonDeibert / Kudos to @DavidSatter for helping @citizenlab. So important. Too often victims—including public personalities—shun attention. cc @razhael / “Plant fakes in a forest of facts in an attempt to make them credible” @jsrailton to @FT <— old Cold War tradecraft 

  6. qpl23 says:

    Given that the contradictory accounts of the “document” by NYT and WaPo are both based on anonymous intelligence sources, maybe you should use some scare-quotes: ‘But as the WaPo “reveals”, the document was not an email.’ Who knows – CNN might reveal next month it was actually an audio recording from the Chinese, according to their anonymous intel sources of the highest pedigree.

    If we *do* trust WaPo’s anons over NYT’s, then never mind the FBI, what about NYT’s journalists dealing with fake news, from their own sources?!

    What an almighty snafu.

  7. Evangelista says:

    There is a difference between ‘fake news’ and ‘false information’, ‘falsification’, ‘deployment of disinformation’ or ‘misinformation’, ‘propaganda’, ‘deception’ and so on, which you should note are all, at bottom line are duplicitous, prevarication and lies intended to deceive and purposed to substitute for real information.

    ‘Fake News’ is fabricated, is deliberate humbug, is sometimes hoax.  ‘Fake News’ is not written with intent to deceive or delude.  ‘Fake News’ is written with intent that its fakery, humbuggery and hoax, when present, be recognized by readers, amuse readers and be enjoyed.

    ‘Fake News’ is the stuff of ‘The Onion’, ‘Harvard Lampoon’, ‘Mad Magazine’, the late ‘Weekly World News’ and such.

    The purpose of ‘Fake News’ may be entertainment, satire, snide comment, ironic observation, even deprecation and denigration of false constructions.  ‘Fake News is not provided with intent that its fake content be believed.  ‘Fake News’ is not passed as ‘truth’ or intended to be taken for real news.

    There is a trend, in the current era of “We can make Reality what we want” self-deluding, and attempting to delude others, to ascribe failed attempts to falsify or pass a falsification as “satirizing”.  The erroneous attributing does not make ‘satire’ what the stumbling propagandists assign.  Satire requires clear and obvious comparability, with recognizable twisting for the satirizing distortion.

    Assigning a false premise credibility to foundation a syllogism is also not faking, it is false premising and is illogical, not logical.  Simply assigning source to be ‘Russian’ over and over and over does not, will not, and cannot make the source factually ‘Russian’.  not any more than it could make the source ‘Martian’.

    Illogical attributing, over and over and over only demonstrates idiocy, duplicity, fundamental level stupidity and ignorance, fatuity and faith in parrot-caliber rote-catechism dogma-based education.

    Note that there has still been nothing but declaration of ‘Russian Hacking’.  There has been no connection of any relevant “hacking” to Russia, except in the repeated attributions, none of whos origins came without arse-covering disclaimers.

    Note that in propaganda manufacturing connectibility is subject to distortion, meaning that ‘Russian’ can be used to mean ‘of ethnic Russian descent’, as ‘ethnic Russian Ukrainians’ in the Ukraine conflict being “Russians”, and ‘of Russian birth’, as ‘Jewish emigrés from Russia to Israel’, who, in view of the Weiner laptop being a pipeline between the clintonmail server and Israeli intelligence operations, are the most likely candidates to be the “Russians” of Comey’s wobbly and tenuous, even in sentence structuring, “Russians” attributions.

    If you don’t want to be stupid and be led by grifters wherever they want to lead you, up midway and down from one con to another, again and again, you have to do more than just swallowing and believing, you have to use some brains to do some thinking.  You have to review logic, rationality and reasoning.

  8. Duncan says:

    Thanks, Evangelista.  I was about to say the same thing, briefly: There’s no “fake news” mentioned in this post.  The term really ought to be retired.

  9. Jeff Kaye says:

    Maybe James Comey was too distracted by attempts to penetrate the defense teams at the Military Commissions at Gitmo, or how to get guns for another teenager “terrorist” sting, to think clearly.

  10. Spanish Inquisition says:

    If indeed the information conveyed in it was fake and this represents a serious threat to our democracy, wouldn’t it have been prudent for the FBI to actually take a look at the DNC’s servers? I find it awfully strange that the DNC didn’t voluntarily hand over the server to the FBI nor did the FBI get a subpoena in response both to address the seriousness of the hacking and to validate or invalidate the intelligence. The FBI didn’t even talk to Wasserman-Schultz – who supposedly wrote the email – let alone check the server when they had a prime opportunity to.

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