Sergey Kislyak, Guccifer 2.0, and Maria Butina Walk into an Election Precinct

The Senate Intelligence Committee released a highly redacted version of their election security report. Much of it focuses on coded descriptions cataloging what happened in different states and what has happened as some states try to prepare better for that kind of election interference in the future; this discussion will be far more useful once reporters have carried out the fairly trivial work of identifying which states are referred to in the discussions.

That discussion also reflects a great deal of underlying tension not at all reflected in some of the early stories on the report. State officials bitched, justifiably, at coverage that doesn’t distinguish between scans and hacks, which fosters the panic that Russia probably hoped to create.

Many state election officials emphasized their concern that press coverage of, and increased attention to, election security could create the very impression the Russians were seeking to foster, namely undermining voters’ confidence in election integrity. Several insisted that whenever any official speaks publicly on this issue, they should state clearly the difference between a “scan” and a “hack,” and a few even went as far as to suggest that U.S. officials stop talking about the issue altogether. One state official said, “Wc need to walk a fine line between being forthcoming to the public and protecting voter confidence.

But Ron Wyden raised concerns that all these state level assessments rely on the states’ own data collection, meaning reports that no vote tallies were changed are probably not as reliable as people claim.

DHS’s prepared testimony at that hearing included the statement that it is “likely that cyber manipulation of U.S. election systems intended to change the outcome of a national election would be detected.” The language of this assessment raises questions, however, about DHS’s ability to identify cyber manipulation that could have affected a very close national election, particularly given DHS’s acknowledgment of the “possibility that individual or isolated cyber intrusions into U.S. election infrastructure could go undetected, especially at local levels.”‘^ Moreover, DHS has acknowledged that its assessment with regard to the detection of outcome-changing cyber manipulation did not apply to state-wide or local elections.

(U) Assessments about manipulations of voter registration databases are equally hampered by the absence of data. As the Committee acknowledges, it “has limited information on the extent to which state and local election authorities carried out forensic evaluation of registration databases.”

That is, we don’t actually know what happened in 2016, because so few states were collecting that data, and it remains true that few states are auditing their elections.

Perhaps one of the most interesting details about 2016, however, involves the Russian government’s efforts to get permission to act as election observers, something that shows up two times in the report. It appears that Russia went first to State, and then to localities.

The Russian Embassy placed a formal request to observe the elections with the Department of State, but also reached outside diplomatic channels in an attempt to secure permission directly from state and local election officials. ” 37 In objecting to these tactics, then-Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland reminded the Russian Ambassador that Russia had refused invitations to participate in the official OSCE mission that was to observe the U.S. elections.38

There’s another, heavily redacted discussion of this later in the report, but that unredacted discussion does say that Russia was seeking access to voting sites in September, and that no one ever figured out what Russia planned to do.

Department of State were aware that Russia was attempting to send election observers to polling places in 2016. The true intention of these efforts is unknown.


The Russian Embassy placed a formal request lo observe the elections with the Department of State, but also reached outside diplomatic channels in an attempt to secure permission directly from state and local election officials.”‘ For example, in September 2016, the State 5 Secretary of State denied a request by the Russian Consul General to allow a Russian government official inside a polling station on Election Day to study the U.S. election process, according to State 5 officials.

But the footnotes make it clear that Ambassador Sergey Kislyak was bitching about the response all the way up to November 7.

That section immediately precedes a partly redacted discussion of a possible Russian effort to sow misinformation about voter fraud.

What the report does not say, in unredacted form, is how Kislyak’s formal efforts overlap with two other Russian efforts. First, there’s the discussion Maria Butina and Aleksandr Torshin had about whether she should serve as an election observer.

Following this October 5, 2016 Twitter conversation, BUTINA and [Aleksandr Torshin] discussed whether BUTINA should volunteer to serve as a U.S. election observer from Russia and agreed that the risk was too high. [Torshin] expressed the opinion that the “risk of provocation is too high and the ‘media hype’ which comes after it,” and BUTINA agreed by responding, “Only incognito! Right now everything has to be quiet and careful.”

Then there’s Guccifer 2.0’s announcement, at a time when Kislyak was bitching that Russia had been denied access to election sites, that he was going to serve as a (nonsensical) FEC election observer, watching the vulnerabilities in

SSCI doesn’t go there, but at a minimum, Guccifer 2.0’s disinformation paralleled an overt effort by the Russian state, one that Butina considered, but decided against, joining.

Of course, as I’ve noted before, it wasn’t just Russian entities volunteering to act as election observers so as to sow chaos. Where Russia threatened to do so, Roger Stone succeeded.

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

22 replies
    • PR says:

      Solutions are for idealists indeed. By suppressing voters, a minority’s power remains unchecked. This country hates poor people & uses tokens shamelessly. The middle class is now a myth. We don’t have voodoo economics, we have 3rd world economics in the making. Our bad debts? We just spread them like cancer. The Depression of 2009 was sent abroad. What would happen if our debt wasn’t fixed? If the world traded in Euros? The rich would be exposed. And the nexus of players would come into light. Who across most industrialized nations holds the wealth? Do a Venn diagram. It’s not that hard. Tribalism. Poor education is not a mistake. Universal healthcare refusal is not a mistake. Keeping most ppl down serves the 2%

  1. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Neither State nor individual state election officers could figure out what or why the Russians sought election observer status. One would think that lacking that information – or generally – the automatic answer would be a firm, No.

    Shirley, even a Republican sec’y of state would have refused official status for foreign government observers who failed adequately and credibly to disclose their purpose. Given their foreign status, why would it ever have gotten beyond the US State Dept and put in the lap of a local state official?

    Unprepared does not quite capture the situation. And Turtle McConnell says we don’t need no stinkin’ legislation. Seats in those special levels in Hell are being preassigned at an alarming rate.

    • orionATL says:

      now if there were aggressive, strategic minds in the democratic party, those minds would arrange to loudly connect mueller’s personal concerns, clearly expressed at the wednesday hearing, about foreign intervention in voting with mcconnell’s insouciance about election protection legislation. the democratic message would loudly be that mcconnell and trump are again signaling their welcome for Russian intervention (and that mcconnell was paid off by the russians to do this).

  2. P J Evans says:

    How would anyone know if the voting rolls had been changed? That’s the one that bothers me.
    And the “recounts” of electronic ballots with no paper trails – using the same input is not going to get you different output, so you couldn’t tell if the votes were changed.

    • Anvil Leucippus says:

      I dislike the way they obfuscate “found no evidence of vote tampering” and “there was no vote tampering”! Remember that stupid letter from Rosenstein after the mid-terms? It does the same thing! Drives me crazy.

    • Desider says:

      If they used sampling to randomly discard votes in high Dem precincts (tilting the overall vote Republican), there’s no paper trail to review. And it’s much easier to get the desired result than to find a way to specifically switch a Dem vote to Republican through hacking & taking control of the system.

    • harpie says:

      This is what Committee Vice-Chair Sen. Wyden had to say about that in his Minority Views [5 pages at the end of the SSCI report]:

      […] [p4] (U) Assessments related to the 2016 election
      (U) I have also submitted these Minority Views to address assessments related to Russian activities during the 2016 election. According to the January 2017 ICA, DHS assessed that “the types of systems we observed Russian actors targeting or compromising are not involved in vote tallying.”

      An assessment based on observations is only as good as those observations and this assessment, in which DHS had only moderate confidence,14 suffered from a lack of observable data.

      As Acting Deputy Undersecretary of Homeland Security for National Protection and Programs Directorate, Jeannette Manfra, testified at the Committee’s June 21, 2017, hearing, DHS did not conduct any forensic analysis of voting machines.

  3. MattyG says:

    Thanks for this post EW, and the report link. You gotta think that the the finely filtered polling data Manafort was passing to Moscow had a lot to do about small low level vote skimming/detering/suppression in the contested states.

  4. Eureka says:

    Besides more-of-the-same-that-worked, I’ve been thinking of what they might do differently in 2020. By ‘they,’ I mean both extra-national and domestic actors: the incentives for Trump to win have wildly escalated. Domestically, they’ve already dialed-up every voter-suppression tactic available, and recently thrown-in “papers please” in an environment where brown American citizens get imprisoned by ICE.

    As to different tactics, I think they are going to “win” the popular vote. Because how very populist.

    The press is all focused on FL + rust belt for EC purposes, and while I have no doubt they’ll still try to win the EC and that those states will still matter, I am suspect of the typical pattern of paying acute attention to what just happened as opposed to where they might be going. Politico had a ca. May-ish cluster of articles on states the Trump PACs were looking at, one of which identified several priority-tiers based on EC math.

    But what about populous blue EC states like NY, where they could tap (manipulate by all available means) some of the popular vote, with (some combination of) actual votes or “votes.”

    Elizabeth Warren isn’t the only one with a plan. In a trip down memory lane last weekend, Yglesias from Vox tweeted an article from November 1, 2000 about the GOP’s plan to contest a Gore EC victory if Bush won the popular vote. Discussion was in that different context.

    But what if they planned ahead for 2020 to make this happen? In the current era of vote manipulation on steroids– with a party, president, and international clique who *desperately* need Trump to stay in office, but who may not make it with the EC– this could be an objective goal, an insurance policy.

    “A fun fact is that because the Bush 2000 campaign mistakenly believed an electoral/popular split would likely favor Gore, we actually have documentation on how Republicans planned to respond to this. (link)”


    • Eureka says:

      New tonight, Jared is going for the inner-city vote, “perplexing other advisers:”

      Josh Dawsey: “At recent Trump fundraiser, POTUS joked Kushner was a liberal. Kushner has asked for briefings on how to win inner city voters, perplexing other advisers. For better or worse, he will be controlling campaign from West Wing. Latest w/⁦@AshleyRParker⁩: (WaPo link)”

  5. Eureka says:

    OT, newly relevant given yesterday’s DOJ announcement reinstituting the death penalty. Guess Barr and other FedSoc-ers skipped _Dead Man Walking_ on their way to mass. A study in contrasts (from Wednesday):

    Sister Helen Prejean: “I am proud to stand with @DA_LarryKrasner against Pennsylvania’s unjust death penalty system. We need real and radical change in our criminal justice system….”

    Quoting tweet in this thread of faith leaders with additional statements/study link:

    DA Larry Krasner: “After unprecedented review of 40 years of death sentences, @PhilaDAO found the ultimate penalty is applied unconstitutionally in PA. As a preacher’s son whose faith informed my values, I’m honored to stand w/ this diverse group of faith leaders. Thread:…”

  6. Democritus says:

    This is the stuff that really worries me, and the GOP’s blatant corrupt wink and a nod towards it whilst blatantly ignoring their duty to protect us is just…

  7. orionATL says:

    would someone explain to me why a report on election security needs to be heavily redacted? this is inexcusable!

    and don’t tell me it’s to keep the bad guys from knowing how to mess with the system (“vol. 1 is a manual for intervention” is too clever by half) – they already know how. it’s just us peons who don’t know how vulnerable our voting systems are.

    • Geoff says:

      It could be that they don’t want the bad guys to know that they know, so that they can quietly sit back and watch, and then, like, ya know, do nothing, because they benefit by it.

  8. Americana says:

    I’m assuming the Russians wanted to be observers at the elections so they could write propaganda stories for RT (Russia Today) and for their Internet Research Agency web sites like USA Really. They’re becoming masters of manipulation through sites like USAReally. I’m not sure why that site is still up on the internet given what it is.

    I guess there’s always the question of whether the Russians wanted Russian observers at the sites they’d hacked in order to see whether the on site vote monitors tweaked to anything being amiss.

    • Vicks says:

      Since when do Russians need access to a site to write propaganda?
      That’s sarcasm…
      One of the benefits of hacking these sites could have been setting team Trump up so that if/when “HILLARY!!” won they could sow total chaos by claiming the election was rigged and the hacks were proof.
      You know, that may have been as damaging to our country as Trump winning.

        • Vicks says:

          Mob rule?
          Hillary actually locked up?
          I guess once I factor in that the power Trump has managed to build was just a gleam in the eye of few exceptionally dangerous men at the time, I can walk things back a bit.
          I just can’t get my mind around the intentional harm that can result when you combine extreme cleverness (at least on Putin’s part) and pure evil.
          WTF are the men and women (that haven’t been given a coal mine or a thousand acres of pristine wilderness to drill on) thinking when they dismiss these attacks on our country?

      • Americana says:

        Well, these sites were created by the Russians and are meant to pass muster w/Americans, to appear to be American productions.

        Nowhere on the USAReally site does it acknowledge it’s an effort by the Internet Research Agency and the Russian intelligence agencies. I can’t remember where I first saw this site mentioned as being a Russian production but it was an article on the new Russian propaganda efforts in the wake of the 2016 election. Seemingly, the Russians were afraid simple trolls would be insufficient once Americans became ultra-aware of Russian trolls. (Hahaha, if Russian trolls agree w/you, you must be on the right track (sarc!) But I’ve glanced at this site ever since I first heard of it just to keep track of the quality of their propaganda and the tenacity of their mission and the their outreach.

        Their most nefarious attempt thus far is to attempt to harness American citizen journalists to contribute to their site thus achieving a perfect symbiotic relationship w/Russian mind-meld propagandists and their American targets (uggghhhh):


        About us
        Today, people of US do not receive objective and independent information about events occurring on the territory of America and around the world.

        “The USA Really. Wake Up Americans” project is focused to promote crucial information and problems, which are hushed up by the conventional American media controlled by the establishment and oligarchy of the United States.

        In post-truth situation and globalized communications it is important to recover quality journalism and feedback from citizens for real democratic process in US that suffers from political lobbies and old cliches from Cold War times.

        Democracy and freedom of speech, pillars and honor of US being promoted for decades, now is under attack of politicians itself. To reverse the situation our media was established with idea of honest and unbiased showing what is really happening in the US.

        We are looking for participants from every state with no matter of social status, political engagement and ideological preferences.

        Our goal is to keep real democracy strong and to discuss current events that affects our everyday life.

        USA Really is a nonprofit media organization dedicated to journalistic accuracy and integrity, providing a voice for ignored and underserved communities, highlighting the best of humanity and delivering local, people-centered coverage on the issues you care about.

        Our mission is to build USA Really into a fully community-supported news and storytelling outlet.

        Unbiased, honest stories that inform and Illuminate the struggles and triumphs of everyday Americans is what USA Really is all about.

        We aim to finally give a voice to those whose voices aren’t usually heard by the mainstream, corporate media, presenting a realistic portrait of what’s happening in the United States from people who don’t usually get their stories told. We’re developing the next generation of people-centered storytelling, and we need your help! So share our news and stories, or contact us about becoming an author!

        Transparency and nurturing the next generation of people-centered storytellers are essential aspects of our mission.

        • Eureka says:

          Why would you put live links to a Russian propaganda site, citing its presumed ‘ownership’ by the IRA / Russian intelligence– on this website? Surely you have read Rayne’s many warnings about malware and tracking risks as to sites like that.

          Someone just scrolling down the page could accidentally click-through, as Rayne has also repeatedly warned.

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