Bots! Bots! Everywhere Russian Bots!
Published January 29, 2018 2:24 p.m.
The hashtag #ReleaSETHeMemo soared to the top of Twitter last weekend as conservatives raucously called for the declassification and release of the four-page memo on FISA abuses by the highest echelons of the government. The memo apparently exposes the DNC in general and former President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in particular as the primary culprits in the scandal. Hillary Clinton has already managed to escape legal reckoning for a host of criminal acts including the deliberate mishandling of enormous amounts of information marked at the highest levels classification, the rigging of the DNC primary against Bernie Sanders, and the sale of US uranium to the Russians. A growing contingent of people who have had enough of her criminal antics joined the #ReleaSETHeMemo bandwagon in an effort to finally lay all the cards on the table and call her out.
Twitter eventually removed the hashtag from its trending topics when it was still in high rotation. This caused a host of secondary hashtags as well as outcries of censorship. It was clear the left was losing control of the narrative. By Sunday 21 January 2018, damage control had to be called in.
Enter Hamilton 68 with its claim that “Russian bots” were responsible for the popularity of #ReleaSETHeMemo. If you are no longer a consumer of corporate media, chances are pretty good you have never heard of Hamilton 68. Its “research” generates the type of headlines that make leftist fingers go click, but for most conservatives, it is too much effort to get past the first three sentences without succumbing to the cringe.
Hamilton 68 purports to be a “non-partisan” internet research and data analysis outfit operating under the “thinktank” Alliance for Securing Democracy, or ASD. Hamilton 68 is the name of both the information operation and the dashboard (a visualized rendering of data sets) it often refers to in its findings. The operation started in the shadows of our current American-Soviet regime, soon after the unbelievable election of Donald John Trump to the office of President of the United States of America.
In other words, Hamilton 68 exists to stroke the egos of the losing side and protect the leaders who are currently driving the Democratic party to its now imminent demise.
As a data operation, Hamilton 68 says it uses sophisticated data tools to monitor what it has identified as a network of Russian or Russian-friendly internet users and their networks in relation to conservative or Trump-friendly online trends.
To put it another way, Hamilton 68 only monitors online conservatives and only analyzes them in the context of influence through “Russian bots.” This might explain why the organization has declared not just #ReleaSETHeMemo, but a whole host of conservative trends as mere manipulation by the Kremlin. Just one day after declaring #ReleaSETHeMemo a Russian plot, Newsweek quoted Hamilton 68 in an article on Monday 22 January that #SchumerShutdown was similarly powered by “Russian bots.”
Other nefarious Russian interference in American online life include the August 2017 call by conservatives to fire Trump National Security Advisor General H.R. McMaster, online criticism of James Comey, the State Department, Robert Mueller, and Hillary Clinton. In addition, Hamilton 68 blames “Russian bots” for the following hashtags
· #Afrin (Syrian city, not the drug)
· #Russia (brilliant analysis there, Hamilton 68)
To most academics it might seem laughable that every hashtag or topic proliferated, hijacked, or promoted by conservatives for the benefit of conservatives just happens to be a ploy by Putin, but given the nature of Hamilton’s operations that is literally the only conclusion they could possibly make. To paraphrase the old saying, “When your only tool is Hamilton 68, all your problems look like ‘Russian bots.’”
On the other hand, it seems unusual that Russians care so much about routing the corruption of the Deep State, preventing global war, and working for the prosperity of the average working Americans. With geo-political foes like that, who needs Democrats?
The Alliance for Securing Democracy lists two “experts” in Hamilton 68: ASD Senior Fellow Laura Rosenberger and Non-Resident Fellow J.M. Berger. Neither of these people have any data or information science credentials nor any background in Russia that would qualify them for running this type of operation.
Rosenberger’s academic background is an undergraduate degree in gender studies and a Master’s degree in international peace and conflict resolution. She worked extensively in Obama’s National Security Council under two Obama appointees concentrating mainly on the geopolitics of the Asia Pacific region in general and China in particular. But not Eastern Europe and not Russia.
This is not the type of work history that garners confidence in the organization’s “non-partisan” chops. Not only did Laura serve as the foreign policy advisor for the failed Hillary for America immediately before being picked up for Hamilton 68, but as a member of the Obama NSC, she has a personally vested interest in keeping the details contained in the FISA memo from ever seeing the light of day.
J.M. Berger similarly has no background in data or information sciences, nor is he an expert on Russia. He is a journalist with an undergraduate degree in English and film studies whose work mainly covers jihadists and their ideology. Only recently in the early post-election days has he parlayed that skill into understanding the mindset of “right-leaning” extremists such as white supremacists. His knowledge of both came into play when he was trucked into MSNBC on February 2017 to comment on Trump’s travel ban, calling it ineffective for weeding out terrorists and blaming its popularity on “white nationalists.”
Looks like we found yet another non-partisan.
He also wrote the document outlining Hamilton 68’s methodology, which cites a couple of sources, is well reasoned and organized, and is overall a very insightful bit of reading. I recommend those interested read the three pages for more details on Hamilton 68’s purported operations.
An information collection and analysis platform as outlined by Berger is conceivable but there is reason to doubt such operation exists or, if it does, is no more sophisticated than a spreadsheet on a laptop. JM Berger may have researched the issue and Laura Rosenberger may be running the show, but neither of them has the technical expertise to arrange for the infrastructure. Nor do they have any knowledge or experience in Russian geopolitics.
So who are those experts?
Of the five staff listed at Hamilton 68’s parent organization, Alliance for Securing Democracy, only one has any background in Russia. David Salvo speaks Russian, has studied the region at Georgetown, and served in various advisory positions regarding Russia, Eastern Europe, and the Eurasian region. The rest of the staff are democratic political operatives with little international experience outside of Asia and not a single one of the five has any technical background in data management, information science, or intelligence.
Admittedly, there are some more hefty resumes among the ASD’s advisory staff. They include diehard NeverTrumper Bill Kristol, the former President of Estonia, multiple Obama appointees, a former Bush appointee, and former two-time interim head of the CIA Michael Morell - who also has a vested interest in the suppression of the memo. Again, not the roster you would want if your goal was to build a sophisticated international tactical data gathering and analysis program.
We have reached out Hamilton 68 regarding these and other questions and have received no response. Aside from their staff’s overall inadequacy, their organizational bias, and faulty research; there are other reasons to suspect Hamilton 68 democratic PR masquerading as patriots doing Internet research.
Primary among these is the organization’s incredible lack of responsibility regarding its own stated mission. If the threat of “Russian bots” is as great as they say, why not help other Americans on Twitter recognize that influence sooner? Perhaps like J.M. Berger’s opinion on preventing terrorists from entering the U.S. or like Obama’s entire foreign policy, Hamilton 68 believes the wisest course is to always do absolutely nothing.
If Hamilton 68 is a dashboard, why not share those data visualizations to better buttress their opaque and subjective analysis with hard data? They could describe the flow of influence from Russian actors, to bots, and “cyborgs” (bot that allows for some human control), to Michigan voters for example? These would go a long way improving the believability of their claims while at the same time help make the average American user more savvy to foreign political influence.
That Hamilton 68 does not do this is unusual to say the least. As someone who works with data and data visualizations, I can say these types of tools are not that hard to come by. It might help Hamilton 68 to publish the occasional whitepaper so the rest of us in flyover country can see the “Russian bots” hidden in every teapot.
Apparently despite Alliance for Securing Democracy’s aims of securing democracy, the organization does not see itself as one that serves the needs of the American people beyond providing fodder for fake news headlines. Hamilton 68 gets its name from Federalist No. 68 an early American essay regarding the manner in which the president of the US is to be elected. The document contains a section on the value of the electoral college in defeating foreign influence on elections.
There is ample irony in this choice. Leftists like those who staff Hamilton 68 are the most outspoken critics of the electoral college and have called for its dissolution nonstop since November 2016. Another level of irony is the fact historians only believe Alexander Hamilton could have written the 68th essay of the Federalist Papers. The essay was written anonymously, a tradition that began in pre-revolutionary America to protect the separatist thinkers from being rounded up and killed. In other words, those unknown patriotic writers were the anons of their day – the exact type of people Hamilton 68 is targeting with its unsubstantiated blanket claims of Russian manipulation. The idea of putting ideas into the ether so their merits may be openly debated is a profoundly American concept and one that is part of our nation’s history. Hamilton 68 never addresses the ideas behind the memes and hashtags even though that would be the one task its staff is suited for. Instead, Hamilton 68 quashes opposing viewpoints using the tired liberal tactic of ad hominem against anons.
The lack of self-awareness is Bill Kristolian.
The even more delicious irony is the fact the Alliance for Securing Democracy itself is not an American organization. It is run and funded by the German Marshall Fund of the United States which was established in Washington DC by the West German government in 1972. In addition to the US, the organization, which is dedicated to furthering transatlantic cooperation, has an office in Turkey, and other offices throughout Europe including Brussels and Berlin.
Given its findings are routinely refuted by Twitter itself (no friend to conservatives), it looks increasingly likely Hamilton 68 is a mere front that exists for no reason other than to delegitimize conservative speech on the internet. It is staffed with liberal political operatives personally bent on suppressing right-leaning speech. Its goal of protecting democracy from external foreign influence belies its true goal which is to … you guessed it! influence our democracy through foreign powers!
Hamilton 68 is not about data. In true liberal fashion, the organization accuses its opponent of the same crimes they themselves are guilty of. Reputable news organizations should steer clear of these opinion mongers and their too predictable proclamations.