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Hell of a fellow

By Daniel M. Ryan
web posted March 27, 2017

Last Friday, after it became clear that the American Health Care Act would not receive enough votes to pass, Speaker Ryan withdrew it. That withdrawal, of course, was interpreted as a failure for President Trump; the folks that hate him celebrated. Scott Adams cannily noted that their new narrative, their claim that Trump is incompetent, undercut their old narrative about Trump being a dictator. It’s hard to imagine “Literally Hitler� as Colonel Klink.

More significantly, President Trump got behind and boosted a bill that he did not originate. That’s why there was a big tussle about whether the AHCA should be named Trumpcare or Ryancare. His support of a bill shepherded and managed by Paul Ryan shows President Trump working co-operatively with Congress. That ain’t how a dictator acts. It’s very hard to imagine der Führer co-operativly supporting and championing a bill that the Reichstag cooked up.

As Adams relates, getting the gatekeepers to push a new narrative that clashes with the old makes the narrative-spinners less credible. It doesn’t drain any swamp, but it does get rid of alligators. In a more subtle way that the usual, it’s going over the heads of the gatekeepers to reach the people directly. Joe Average does have a memory, and he’s going to remember that this week’s narrative ain’t the same as last week’s. He waking up can be delayed by gatekeeper glibness, but eventually he figures out that he’s being played – and concludes, “You guys just hate President Trump.� Credibility is like a huge trust fund: it takes a lot of wasterling to drain, but once it’s gone it’s gone.

Less noticeably, another Dem-fueled narrative is eroding. Although still stubbornly clung to by senior members of the so-called Deep State, the claim that the Kremlin used the GRU and/or the FSB to maneuver Donald Trump into the White House got another tear in it last week. You have to know something about intelligence work to see it, but the rip came from James Comey’s testimony last Monday. As reported almost offhandedly by Bloomberg columnist Eli Lake:

One of the most important things we learned Monday from the House Intelligence Committee hearings on Russian influence of the 2016 elections was that the hackers may have wanted to get caught. FBI director James Comey said Russia's cyber intruders were "unusually loud," as though they "wanted us to see what they were doing."
Lake further reports that Comey glibly explained this “counterintuitive� finding by claiming that the Kremlin was trying to intimidate Americans. If you’re familiar with intelligence work, you’ll know that “counterintuitive� is a helluvan understatement. The real thing is profoundly dependent upon meticulous secrecy when launching a foreign spying operation. You want to see what it takes? Have a look at the story of ex-KGB spy Jack Barsky, courtesy of the New York Post. He spent years living under his false identity and was very much expected to be unobtrusive. The KGB was alarmed because he won the valedictory at Baruch College!

That’s what real espionage is really like. If you’re spying, any potential breach of secrecy is real cause for alarm. Calling attention to yourself is a major screwup. Thumbing your nose at the people you’re spying on is the kind of teenagerish immaturity that’s stomped on hard in any espionage training regimen. If you believe that a spymaster will tolerate it, then you’ll believe that a drill sergeant thinks that the recruits sassing him is cute.

An unusually glib fellow might be able to convince lifetime civvies that Sarge thinks the boots who sass him are a bunch of little darlin’s. But a person with knowledge or experience with the real thing would find that glibness...difficult to believe.

The Single Point Of Failure, Failing

The Putin narrative is a classic case of a tale growing taller in the telling. Underneath all that articulateness is a surprisingly singular source: the DNC-hired firm Crowdstrike. Unusually for the FBI, its investigators did not examine the hacked DNC servers themselves. True to form for the DNC, its deputy communications director Eric Walker insisted that the FBI never asked to examine the servers. Shortly afterwards, none other than James Comey rebutted: he said that FBI did ask several times, but the DNC refused; the FBI agreed to rely upon CrowdStrike after negotiations.

As your humble keyboard jockey pointed out on January 9th, the amped-up narrative is resting solely on Crowdstrike’s report disseminated on June 15th, 2016. Evidence-wise, nothing has been added since then. The only additions have been to the height of the tale.

Crowdstrike is the single point of failure to the whole edifice. The firm won plaudits when its founder Dmitri Alperovitch broke with the security-profession wisdom which said that attribution is a mug’s game. As this laudatory profile from Esquire explains:

Before Alperovitch founded CrowdStrike, the idea that attribution ought to be a central defense against hackers was viewed as heresy. In 2011, he was working in Atlanta as the chief threat officer at the antivirus software firm McAfee. While sifting through server logs in his apartment one night, he discovered evidence of a hacking campaign by the Chinese government. Eventually he learned that the campaign had been going on undetected for five years, and that the Chinese had compromised at least seventy-one companies and organizations, including thirteen defense contractors, three electronics firms, and the International Olympic Committee.

That the Chinese government had been stealing information from the private sector was a shock to the security industry and to many U. S. officials. Almost no one thought that foreign governments used the Internet for anything other than old-fashioned espionage. "This was not spy versus spy," says John Carlin, who was until recently the assistant attorney general for national security. The hacking was economic sabotage.

His findings did lead to indictments of five Chinese hackers. Naturally, he became an Internet-security rock star. Mr. Alperovitch’s coup strikingly resembles the one enjoyed by a now-dead and now-forgotten market letter writer named Joe Granville. At the close of the 1970s, when gold was shooting up and it was a common notion that double-digit inflation was baked into the U.S.-economy cake, Mr. Granville put out a sell call on gold. It was a helluva coup, and he naturally became a superstar: not only in the market-letter world but also in the stock-market world. At least reputedly, his before-the-open “100% long� recommendation on April 21, 1980 caused the Dow to gap up - and trading in the stocks he recommended to be suspended because the buying of them had gotten too frenzied. [.pdf file]

But he lost his touch. On January 6th of 1981, he went all-out bearish on the U.S. stock market. To his subscribers, he recommended “100% short.� And he stuck with it. So: his subscribers were “100% short� when the 1982-2000 bull market got rolling.

The drama then proceeded in a sad but familiar way:

Granville was bearish from 1982 until early 1986, according to the Hulbert Financial Digest, a monthly publication edited by Mark Hulbert that ranks market newsletters. Over that period, the Dow average had a 17 percent annualized return. He had turned bullish by the time the stock market crashed in October 1987.

Significantly, as the above-referenced PDF file said, Granville’s “technique was highly judgmental.� His recommendations did not follow from his indicators but rested on his judgment. That snippet from the above-quoted obituary shows starkly what happens to the judgment of a fellow who becomes a hell of a fellow thanks to one spectacular call.

Am I being unfair in comparing Crowdstrike to a now-forgotten market maven whose sudden fame induced a hell of a disaster? Over at Brietbart, Lee Stranahan spelled out how Crowdstrike’s latest proclamation shaped up. On December 22nd, the firm proclaimed “that the Ukrainian military had lost 80 percent of its D-30 Howitzers due to malware installed by the Russian hacking group FancyBear that they said is connected to the GRU.�

As Stranahan detailed, this conclusion was stoutly denied by a spokesman of the Ukraine military and the British think tank International Institute for Strategic Studies. It was also denied by the Ukrainian Defence Ministry on January 6th. Significantly, as reported by the Voice of America, the coder of the app which Crowdstrike claimed was hacked said that no-one from Crowdstrike contacted him about their findings. “Yaroslav Sherstyuk, maker of the Ukrainian military app in question, [said that] CrowdStrike never contacted him before or after its report was published, he told VOA.�

This is very unusual in the Internet-security field. Normal practice – not best practice, but normal practice – mandates contacting the hacked party. Crowdstrike failed to do so. Since the Ukrainian military is supposed to be an ally, at least if you subscribe to John McCain’s view of the region, we have a picture of a hot-hand holder who resembles the apocryphal group of philosophers ratiocinating their way to the number of teeth a horse has instead of finding a horse and looking in its mouth.

Despite the detailed debunking from the Ukrainian army, Crowdstrike has not retracted or modified at all. Evidently, someone at Crowdstrike thinks that he’s a hell of a fellow.

It’s this person’s judgment that the entire tale of Kremlin interference rests upon. One hell of a fellow.... ESR

Daniel M. Ryan, as Nxtblg, is shepherding the independently-run Open Audi Initiative Prediction Market Shadowing Project. He has stubbornly assumed all the responsibility and blame for the workings and outcome of the project.

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