How sloppy has America’s intelligence community gotten? It’s a valid question, and one that Masha Gessen – the Russian American journalist/activist – explores with a careful rigor in a NY Review of Books article. A rigor that one wishes was in the report the intel community delivered to Congress, Obama, Trump, and the waiting world last week. A report Gessen methodically picks apart.

Unlike mainstream media outlets like the NYT who merely echoed its poorly supported conclusions.

Masha Gessen is no fan of Trump, and yes she’s an avowed opponent of Putin and the authoritarian state he has built in Russia. But her concern is that in trying to paint Trump as a Kremlin pawn, which is basically what the report concludes even if it never directly states so, one risks getting the picture wrong. What she’s worried about, is Trump’s populist, nationalist, and conservative agenda, as a gay female writer who clearly is deeply invested in a very liberal view of America.

But her attacks on the way the report is written, and how it presents its evidence should leave the higher ups in the intel community more than a little bashful. And the rest of us more than a little worried. Trust a Russian intellectual (you too Volokh) to be soviet-like in her rigorous approach to our sloppy semantics. Welcome to America Masha – even if you’ve been on this side of the pond for a while.

But for all her fussy grammatical – and more importantly, logical – standards, Masha Gessen is absolutely right. Any report by America’s intelligence agencies that deals with something as important as Russian attempts to interfere in and degrade the electoral process should be judged by as rigorous a standard as possible. They should never be narratives. They should be concise and cohesive explanations of the available intelligence. Because in a narrative, the facts are bent to fit the story. In a report, the story presents the facts as best as is possible.

Now contrast the circular logic and lack of compelling evidence in the intel community’s report on Russia, to the statements on the web of the so-called Shadow Brokers. They are almost certainly yet another Russian semi-official hacking group; perhaps peopled by some of the same hackers who make up Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear. And they have demonstrated publicly that they are apparently capable of hacking NSA code. Code that is used to gather vital information on America’s enemies (and yes, allies as well).

But The Shadow Brokers play a sort of cyber-goof role: we’re just a bunch of kids in some apartment building in St. Petersburgh or Moscow, trying to scam up some bitcoin. Like any honest-to-goodness darknet denizen. Here’s some of their online rhetoric as reported by The Daily Beast:

The ShadowBrokers is dumb asses thinking found golden ticket sitting on server and just wanting cash out without dying or go to prison.

Do the Russian intel services have manuals on how to write like a dumb Russian wannabe hacker? They may very well have such guidelines. More smoke blown straight in America’s face: we’re just a bunch of kids with a few laptops and we’ve hacked the NSA. It’s so blatant it’s almost pathetic. If it weren’t chipping away – bit by bit – at the credibility of America’s intel community, who have not done too much lately to cover themselves in glory.

Should America support and appreciate the men and women who do the analytical and the field work that helps defend the nation? Obviously. But that does not preclude demanding they adhere to standards worthy of their task, rather than engaging in echo-chamber public relations.

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