Email #185: “erode the American people’s trust”?

You wrote to me in April regarding Russian interference in the November election:

“I want to emphasize that the intelligence community has found no evidence that there was any interference in the voting or balloting process in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”

This is no longer true. Last week, the online news source The Intercept published a May 5th NSA memo supplied by an anonymous source. It reveals a cyberattack on a U.S.  voting software supplier and over 100 local elected officials by a Russian agency:

“Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate actors … executed cyber espionage operations against a named U.S. company in August 2016, evidently to obtain information on elections-related software and hardware solutions. … The actors likely used data obtained from that operation to … launch a voter registration-themed spear-phishing campaign targeting U.S. local government organizations.”

This contradicts President Putin’s recent statements that the Russian government was not involved in any cyberattacks. It also contradicts President Trump’s May 27th tweets:

“It is my opinion that many of the leaks coming out of the White House are fabricated lies made up by the #FakeNews media.”

“Whenever you see the words ‘sources say’ in the fake news media, and they don’t mention names…it is very possible that those sources don’t exist but are made up by fake news writers. #FakeNews is the enemy!”

In this case the anonymous source has been identified and the document authenticated. Although the NSA declined to comment on their leaked memo, The Intercept still agreed to their redaction requests before publishing the document. Reality Leigh Winner, an employee of the government contractor Pluribus International Corporation, admitted to removing the classified document and mailing it to The Intercept. She faces up to ten years in jail.

You have spoken out strongly against such actions. You said in your April form letter that you “requested a briefing on efforts made by the intelligence agencies to weed out any leakers of classified information and bring them to justice.” You also said that: “All leaks of classified information have the potential to erode the American people’s trust in their government’s ability to protect both the security of our country and privacy of U.S. persons.”

While I agree that the leaking of classified information is a serious crime, I also ask that you note the erosion of the American people’s trust in their government when their government does not disclose important information or directly contradicts facts. The President has repeatedly cast doubts about the role Russia played in the election. He stated in late November: “It could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey.” He said in May that “this Russia thing” is “an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.”

Ms. Winner’s illegally leaked information shows that the President was misleading the American people. Her leak also reverse your claim that there was no Russian “interference in the voting or balloting process in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.” While we mutually believed this was the case when you made that statement, we now know the Russian attack included our voting process too. We know this only because of Ms. Winner.

I personally am unsure how to weigh her crime against the public good of whistle-blowing, but regardless of how she is prosecuted, you are now obligated to retract your false claim.

Author: Chris Gavaler

Chris Gavaler is an associate professor at W&L University, comics editor of Shenandoah, and series editor of Bloomsbury Critical Guides in Comics Studies. He has published two novels: School for Tricksters (SMU 2011) and Pretend I’m Not Here (HarperCollins 2002); and six books of scholarship: On the Origin of Superheroes (Iowa 2015), Superhero Comics (Bloomsbury 2017), Superhero Thought Experiments (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Iowa 2019), Revising Fiction, Fact, and Faith (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Routledge 2020), Creating Comics (with Leigh Ann Beavers, Bloomsbury 2021), and The Comics Form (Bloomsbury forthcoming). His visual work appears in Ilanot Review, North American Review, Aquifer, and other journals.

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