NEW YORK, October 31—A reader (and a new and generous supporter) wrote just yesterday to raise a matter that comes regularly to mind these past few months. “I would very much appreciate an update regarding your current thinking about the VIPS memo,” his note read.
Following the practice when I post mail (hopelessly behind as I am with this chore), no name to come here—just initials. The reader’s are R.A. He wrote in reference to my October 22d Journal jottings, the Cú Chulainn entry just prior to this one. In it I made passing reference to a piece published in The Nation August 9th. A storm erupted when I reported on evidence that the July 2016 theft of mail from the Democratic National Committee was not a “hack” with Russians behind it, as almost universally accepted, but a leak by an insider with access of one or another kind to D.N.C. computers. “VIPS” refers to the group of intelligence veterans who developed this evidence in association with a number of people specialized in computer forensics. Here is the piece. It now comes with a lengthy Editor’s Note in italics set stop it. You can also find it in this site’s archives.
R. A. jumped the mail queue, due to the nature of his note. I replied within a few minutes.
“Good day. You pose a v interesting question, to which I have what I hope is an interesting answer,” I wrote. “I have been eager for some time to take up the v subject you raise. But I haven’t known quite how to enter into it. You have just given me a way. I hope it is all right if I reply in this fashion—via the web site, in public.”
R.A. then responded, “That is exactly what I hoped you would do. Thank you for addressing this.”
It rained for many days once the heavens opened after I published August 9th, as I mentioned in the Journal entry that prompted R. A. to write. I am not the only one who got wet—though my feet were dry throughout. I seem to be the only one who remained silent, however. Now I will say a few things. No idea who will still take any interest, in a nation suffering an epidemic of A. D. D. But even if this is for R.A. alone, it is worth getting a few matters down.
I am afraid I will have to do this in two parts. This is the first. The second will appear shortly.
THE FIRST THINGS TO NOTE are the simple facts. As I wrote R. A. in a kind of exec summary, the VIPS report continues to prove out. The evidence it offers stands. The scientists have, indeed, continued with research and testing, and the results of this work are consistent with the original findings. So there is yet more evidence now. And yet more to come, I understand. After all the noise, after the circus left town with all the animals loaded into the caravan, nobody has knocked over the truth-telling spooks. In consequence, nobody has knocked over my reportage, either. Nobody has asked me to retract a single sentence in my report and I have no reason to do so, the Editor’s Note atop the piece notwithstanding. This I am exceptionally pleased to say.
The leak-not-hack piece, wherein the reporting was perfectly straightforward and my journalist’s disinterest intact, produced what was easily the most contentious weeks of my professional life. (And it has been a long life.) Nerve-wracking and full of cruelty, indignity, childish irrationality, those weeks. But kindness, thoughtfulness, professionalism, and generosity, too. Whenever I called my sources for clarification on one or another challenge, they always replied with what I needed. I know what it is like to hear one’s knees knock in the face of an attack on one’s work. Anyone who does good work knows this. But, because I had access to my sources whenever I asked for it, I never put my head down at night nursing any case of anxiety.
I divided the critics into two, as follows.
There were the barking dogs, as I took to calling them. They were the loudest and shrillest, for the simple reason they had nothing at all of substance to contribute. They attacked me, and it did not seem to matter that they knew little about me. They went after my sources, ditto. But they did not show any interest in the evidence I wrote about. This was key, and I will return to the point in my next entry. Nobody among the BD’s said, “Maybe right, maybe wrong, but let’s see about this matter of a leak from the inside having nothing to do with Russians.” No curiosity, no search for the truth on this point. This was simply shoot-the-messenger stuff, character assassination. I simply should not have written the piece. My story cast doubt on the meta-story. A not-done.
Then there were the living room scientists. These were an essentially harmless lot, but unless you have a great deal of knowledge of computers, software, internet systems, and the like, these are the kind who can make the knees knock, if briefly. “I can do what they say is impossible sitting on my sofa!” they would write in shrill, indignant tones. These sorts of assertions never survived a simple telephone call to one of the forensics people on whom the reporting rested. After a while I found I knew enough to manage some of these cases without additional reporting or confirmation: I had learned the standard mistakes amateurs made as they addressed highly qualified people.
There was a third category I should mention. These were the so-called dissenters within the VIPS group. They were invited to present an opposing case to The Nation. They did and it was duly published. A couple of points ought to be made about this group.
One, their dissent seems to have resolved nothing. The thought was they would step forward with a body of countervailing evidence, following standard scientific method, and those responsible for the original findings would then respond. But these latter, the sources I used, who are among the most qualified experts in their field, were not moved to alter a single point in their report. As an opposing case, that of the dissenters did not come to much. So far as I know, they have done no further work on this question since.
A second point about the dissenting group lands closer to home. Some of the barking dogs charged that I had failed to report the presence of dissenters within the VIPS group. This was a grave accusation—demonstrable evidence of my professional misconduct. And it would have been had the indictment been sound. But the BD’s—per usual, I have to say—spoke without thinking it through. They did not bother looking into the matter to be certain of their facts. Had they made even a slight effort, they would have avoided a foolish error. During my reporting I made extensive inquiries into the matter of dissent. There was no way I could leave it out were there any to note. But I found nothing of substance. My inquiries led only to indications of personal animosities, emotional charged muttering, and the like. What I found amounted to dirty laundry that had no place in my report—a conclusion I drew after careful consideration. There was fulsome evidence to support this judgment.
I finished my reporting in the first few days of August. I published on the 9th. Not until days later did dissent break the surface. The August 9th piece, indeed, seems to have catalyzed it into some kind of form, although I have no hard evidence to demonstrate this. In any event, this dissent does not appear to have amounted to much.
R.A., there is your “update.” Undented case, more evidence supporting it. All clear.
But you have asked for my “current thinking.” This I will outline in my next Cú Chulainn entry.
A LITTLE HOUSEKEEPING to get done today. As explained via various channels, I am reconstituting Cú Chulainn to make it a regular feature of my work. It seems right. Readers have written of their appreciation of the Journal. It seems useful as an informal way to address topics not right for the columns, or topics indeed in the columns but with dimensions better addressed elsewhere. Also to be noted, the redo of the Journal coincides with an appeal for support just mounted via Patreon. You can see this at Patreon.com/thefloutist. The simple truth is I need help to sustain the work.
With these things in mind, this will be the last Cú Chulainn entry available freely to anyone arriving on the site. The Journal will henceforth be available to patrons kind enough to lend a hand on a monthly basis. With my next entry, my web and document manager—the brilliant Clifford Tremblay, who runs Blue Anchor Design in Portland, Maine—will alter the way we thank patrons to incorporate this change. We will make Cú Chulainn available to those sending $10 or more a month.