Everything you wanted to know about Deep State but were afraid to ask

Alexandra Petri writes: We have been hearing more about the Deep State lately. It is about time. I have cherished my admissions letter to DEEP STATE ever since it was flown down my chimney by an old bat with large leathery wings shortly after my 11th birthday. It is below.

Congratulations on your admission to DEEP STATE!

We’d love to learn more about you as you make up your mind about whether to attend this elite institution and join the many graduates who proudly proclaim our Latin motto, “status in statu.”

First, a question. There are only two ways that muggles Real Americans find out about American Deep State. How did you?
a) I read an article on Breitbart.com
b) I am the president of the United States, with access to the work of the world’s most vital intelligence apparatus, privy to all kinds of classified information that can get to the heart of things, and I read an article on Breitbart.com [Continue reading…]

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Three thousand fake tanks: How a network of conspiracy sites spread a fake story about U.S. military reinforcements in Europe

Digital Forensic Research Lab reports: On January 4, a little-known news site based in Donetsk, Ukraine published an article claiming that the United States was sending 3,600 tanks to Europe as part of “the NATO war preparation against Russia”.

Like much fake news, this story started with a grain of truth: the US was about to reinforce its armored units in Europe. However, the article converted literally thousands of other vehicles — including hundreds of Humvees and trailers  — into tanks, building the US force into something 20 times more powerful than it actually was.

The story caught on online. Within three days it had been repeated by a dozen websites in the United States, Canada and Europe, and shared some 40,000 times. It was translated into Norwegian; quoted, unchallenged, by Russian state news agency RIA Novosti; and spread among Russian-language websites.

It was also an obvious fake, as any Google news search would have revealed. Yet despite its evident falsehood, it spread widely, and not just in directly Kremlin-run media. Tracking the spread of this fake therefore shines a light on the wider question of how fake stories are dispersed. [Continue reading…]

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In Turkey, U.S. hand is seen in nearly every crisis

The New York Times reports: Turkish officials accused the United States of abetting a failed coup last summer. When the Russian ambassador to Turkey was assassinated last month, the Turkish press said the United States was behind the attack.

And once again, after a gunman walked into an Istanbul nightclub early on New Year’s Day and killed dozens, the pro-government news media pointed a finger at the United States.

“America Chief Suspect,” one headline blared after the attack. On Twitter, a Turkish lawmaker, referring to the name of the nightclub, wrote: “Whoever the triggerman is, Reina attack is an act of CIA. Period.”

Turkey has been confronted with a cascade of crises that seem to have only accelerated as the Syrian civil war has spilled across the border. But the events have not pushed Turkey closer to its NATO allies. Conversely, they have drifted further apart as the nation lashes out at Washington and moves closer to Moscow, working with the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, to secure a cease-fire in Syria.

One story in the Turkish press, based on a routine travel warning issued by the American Embassy in Turkey, was that the United States had advance knowledge of the nightclub attack, which the Islamic State later claimed responsibility for. Another suggested that stun grenades used by the gunman had come from stocks held by the American military. Still another claimed the assault was a plot by the United States to sow divisions in Turkey between the secular and the religious.

Rather than bringing the United States and Turkey together in the common fight against terrorism, the nightclub attack, even with the gunman still on the run, appears to have only accelerated Turkey’s shift away from the West, at a time when its democracy is eroding amid a growing crackdown on civil society. [Continue reading…]

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In reaction to fake news, Pakistani minister directs nuclear threat at Israel

The New York Times reports: A fake news article led to gunfire at a Washington pizzeria three weeks ago. Now it seems that another fake news story has prompted the defense minister of Pakistan to threaten to go nuclear.

The defense minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, wrote a saber-rattling Twitter post directed at Israel on Friday after a false report — which the minister apparently believed — that Israel had threatened Pakistan with nuclear weapons. Both countries have nuclear arsenals.

“Israeli def min threatens nuclear retaliation presuming pak role in Syria against Daesh,” the minister wrote on his official Twitter account, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State. “Israel forgets Pakistan is a Nuclear state too.”


Mr. Asif appeared to be reacting to a fake news article published on awdnews.com.

That story, with the typo-laden headline “Israeli Defense Minister: If Pakistan send ground troops to Syria on any pretext, we will destroy this country with a nuclear attack,” appeared on the website on Dec. 20, alongside articles with headlines like “Clinton is staging a military coup against Trump.” [Continue reading…]

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The long and brutal history of fake news

Jacob Soll writes: The fake news hit Trent, Italy, on Easter Sunday, 1475. A 2 ½-year-old child named Simonino had gone missing, and a Franciscan preacher, Bernardino da Feltre, gave a series of sermons claiming that the Jewish community had murdered the child, drained his blood and drunk it to celebrate Passover. The rumors spread fast. Before long da Feltre was claiming that the boy’s body had been found in the basement of a Jewish house. In response, the Prince-Bishop of Trent Johannes IV Hinderbach immediately ordered the city’s entire Jewish community arrested and tortured. Fifteen of them were found guilty and burned at the stake. The story inspired surrounding communities to commit similar atrocities.

Recognizing a false story, the papacy intervened and attempted to stop both the story and the murders. But Hinderbach refused to meet the papal legate, and feeling threatened, simply spread more fake news stories about Jews drinking the blood of Christian children. In the end, the popular fervor supporting these anti-semitic “blood libel” stories made it impossible for the papacy to interfere with Hinderbach, who had Simonino canonized — Saint Simon — and attributed to him a hundred miracles. Today, historians have catalogued the fake stories of child-murdering, blood-drinking Jews, which have existed since the 12th century as part of the foundation of anti-Semitism. And yet, one anti-Semitic website still claims the story is true and Simon is still a martyred saint. Some fake news never dies.

Over the past few months, “fake news” has been on the loose once again. From bogus stories about Hillary Clinton’s imminent indictment to myths about a postal worker in Ohio destroying absentee ballots cast for Donald Trump, colorful and damaging tales have begun to circulate rapidly and widely on Twitter and Facebook. In some cases they have had violent results: Earlier this month a man armed with an AR-15 fired a shot inside a Washington, D.C., restaurant, claiming to be investigating (fake) reports that Clinton aide John Podesta was heading up a child abuse ring there.

But amid all the media handwringing about fake news and how to deal with it, one fact seems to have gotten lost: Fake news is not a new phenomenon. It has been around since news became a concept 500 years ago with the invention of print — a lot longer, in fact, than verified, “objective” news, which emerged in force a little more than a century ago. From the start, fake news has tended to be sensationalist and extreme, designed to inflame passions and prejudices. And it has often provoked violence. The Nazi propaganda machine relied on the same sorts of fake stories about ritual Jewish drinking of childrens’ blood that inspired Prince-Bishop Hinderbach in the 15th century. Perhaps most dangerous is how terrifyingly persistent and powerful fake news has proved to be. As Pope Sixtus IV found out, wild fake stories with roots in popular prejudice often prove too much for responsible authorities to handle. With the decline of trusted news establishments around the country, who’s to stop them today? [Continue reading…]

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Schooled on Benghazi and Pizzagate, Trump team is heavy on conspiracy theorists

The Washington Post reports: In the early hours of July 10, District of Columbia resident Seth Rich was fatally shot near his home.

Police said the 27-year-old Democratic staffer was likely the victim of an attempted robbery. But Monica Crowley, a Fox News analyst who recently joined President-elect Trump’s national security team, suggested a different culprit: Hillary Clinton.

“Maybe, in fact, it wasn’t a robbery,” Crowley said Aug. 10 on “The O’Reilly Factor.” “Maybe there was something more sinister here … The question going forward, I think for Mrs. Clinton, for everybody here, is what else is out there? Who has it? Whose life may be in danger?”

This comment is typical of the perspective Crowley brings to her appointment as senior director for strategic communications for the National Security Council. But it’s not just her: many of Trump’s highest-level appointees have a history of publicly promoting conspiratorial, outlandish and fringe beliefs, particularly about Muslims, the Clinton family and the environment. The common link is they are often false narratives that remain unproven or take on stubborn life on the Internet despite being debunked by the mainstream media. [Continue reading…]

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Bolton: Russian hacks could actually have been by Obama administration

Politico reports: Ambassador John Bolton claimed Sunday that hacks during the election season could have been “a false flag” operation — possibly committed by the Obama administration itself.

In an interview with Fox News’ Eric Shawn, Bolton questioned why FBI Director James Comey said during the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private server, there was no direct evidence found of foreign intelligence service penetration, but cyber fingerprints were found in regards to the presidential election.

“It is not at all clear to me just viewing this from the outside, that this hacking into the DNC and the RNC computers was not a false flag,” Bolton said. “So the question has to be asked, why did the Russians run their smart intelligence service against Hillary’s server, but their dumb intelligence service against the election?”

Shawn then asked Bolton — who has been mentioned as a possible Trump appointment — if he was accusing someone in “the administration or in the intelligence community of” the alleged false flag.

“We just don’t know,” Bolton said. “But I believe that the intelligence community has been politicized in the Obama administration to a very significant degree.” [Continue reading…]

Politico reports: Sen. Rand Paul is threatening to block President-elect Donald Trump’s likely pick of John Bolton as the No. 2 in the State Department.

The Kentucky Republican, who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, could stop the hawkish former ambassador to the United Nations from getting out of committee if there is unanimous Democratic resistance. The committee is narrowly divided among 10 Republicans and nine Democrats, and Paul said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” that he’s an “automatic no on Bolton.”

“John Bolton doesn’t get it. He still believes in regime change. He’s still a big cheerleader for the Iraq War,” Paul said. “John Bolton is so far out of it and has such a naive understanding of the world.” [Continue reading…]

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Donald Trump’s bogus claim that millions of people voted illegally for Hillary Clinton

The Washington Post reports: Angered by demands for a recount in the three states that gave him an electoral college victory, President-elect Donald Trump made a bold but unsubstantiated assertion in a tweet — that “millions of people” voted illegally in the presidential election. He suggested they voted for his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, who now leads in the popular vote by 2.2 million votes, and thus he actually also won the popular vote.


Winning the electoral college is all that counts in the presidential race. But losing the popular vote by such a substantial margin apparently gnaws at Trump. Is there any basis for his claim?

The simple answer is no. This is a bogus claim with no documented proof.

Our colleagues at Snopes.com and PundiFact have already examined this claim, back when it was hot in the right-wing blogosphere, not a statement made by a future U.S. president. The whole thing started with a few tweets by Gregg Phillips, a self-described conservative voter fraud specialist. [Continue reading…]

Politico adds: Election law experts quickly rejected Trump’s claims as farfetched.

“There’s no reason to believe this is true,” said Rick Hasen, a professor specializing in election law at the University of California, Irvine. “The level of fraud in US elections is quite low.”

Hasen added, “The problem of non-citizen voting is quite small — like we’re talking claims in the dozens, we’re not talking voting in the millions, or the thousands, or even the hundreds.”

David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation & Research and a former senior trial attorney in the Voting Section of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, agreed that widespread fraud was unlikely.

“We know historically that this almost never happens,” he said. “You’re more likely to get eaten by a shark that simultaneously gets hit by lightning than to find a non-citizen voting.” [Continue reading…]

Ezra Klein writes: This tweet is an example of Trump’s most dangerous quality: his tendency to mobilize against a threatening, sometimes imaginary Other whenever he himself is under siege. There is no evidence of significant voter fraud from this election. But Trump is telling his supporters that voting fraud did in fact happen, and that they should therefore worry that their political power will be overwhelmed by illegal voters.

The nightmare scenario in 2016 was that Trump would refuse to accept the outcome of the election when he was a mere candidate. Imagine if he were to refuse to accept the outcome of the next election once he is the president, and after he has appointed loyalists to control America’s security apparatus.

Imagine this tendency of Trump’s emerging after a domestic terrorist attack. George W. Bush worked hard in the aftermath of 9/11 to tamp down Islamophobia in America — to ensure it was al-Qaeda (and, eventually, Saddam Hussein) who was blamed, not American Muslims. Who would Trump blame in the aftermath of a terrorist attack? How quick would he be to turn Americans against each other, to find an enemy who could absorb the public anger that might normally attach itself to him?

I’ve noticed a lot of people on Twitter seem to think Trump’s tweet is scary because it’s false, but the actually scary interpretation is that he believes it’s true, which he probably does. It seems likely that Trump got his “information” from conspiracy theorist site InfoWars.com, or someone else retweeting or rewriting InfoWars — a lot of weird things Trump says later prove to emerged in the pro-Trump, conspiracy theory-corners of the internet. The problem with Trump isn’t the lies he tells as much as it’s the information he chooses to believe. [Continue reading…]

In this regard, Trump is no different from his supporters and many of his opponents: the information he seeks out is information that is limited to that which appears to confirm his existing beliefs.

This is the trap that locks the majority of political opinion in self-reinforcing loops that inhibit the evolution of thought and the integration of new information.

Where thinking loses its capacity to adapt, it is reduced to mere repetition.

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