Oh, how I love checking the news and finding a juicy headline so fresh that an hour hasn’t even elapsed since it first hit the Intertubes. I especially love it when I start with the first source I find and click through to their primary source only to find that it is a dead end with nary a reliable citation or identified source relevant to the substance.
Tonight’s adventure begins with Gateway Pundit:
Breaking: Chinese Hackers Break in to White House Military Office
Gateway Pundit, Jim Hoft, September 30, 2012 7:55 PM
With a headline like this, it’s gotta be good!
Quick & dirty analysis of Hoft’s post at Gateway Pundit: Someone else posted some sensational “news.” Let’s see how long it takes the liberals to blame Romney. Yeah, yeah. Forget all that. I want the news about this latest Chinese hack attack. So let’s go to the source he linked.
White House Hack Attack: Chinese hackers break in to White House military office network in charge of the president’s nuclear football
The Washington Free Beacon, Bill Gertz, September 30, 2012 8:33 PM
Now we’re getting somewhere, and by that, I mean nowhere. This long, vacuous article is the proverbial dead end. I didn’t even get past the first sentence without my skeptical reader’s red flag going up:
Hackers linked to China’s government broke into one of the U.S. government’s most sensitive computer networks, breaching a system used by the White House Military Office for nuclear commands, according to defense and intelligence officials familiar with the incident [emphasis added, read: unnamed sources].
I could hardly keep a straight face as I read the rest of the article. Unnamed sources. Commonly known historical background that’s not immediately relevant to the alleged event. Word fog. Smoke and mirrors. Absolutely zero substantiation. The two whiffs of anything remotely substantial Gertz provides are: 1) that the attack was on a specific White House asset, the White House Military Office (WHMO), and 2) that this alleged attack occurred earlier in the month.
Surely, news such as this would have to have been covered by some credible somebody somewhere, right?
As of this writing, a search of Google News on the phrase “White House Military Office” turns up nothing relevant to this story other than this story. A search of my Google Reader feed covering subscriptions from a ridiculous number of online publications across the spectrum yields nothing relevant other than the Hoft post at Gateway Pundit and the appearance of the Gertz article on the Drudge Report feed. Top page of search results finds the article also being picked up by another pillar of credibility, godlikeproductions.com. Somehow, even memeorandum.com manages to link this bit of unsubstantiated fear mongering.
So, where does this leave us? At the moment, it leaves us with time on our hands to look at the credibility of The Washington Free Beacon, and of Bill Gertz in particular, as a source for this kind of news.
Everything you may need to know about The Washington Free Beacon is stated clearly on their About Us page:
The Washington Free Beacon, a project of the 501(c)4 Center for American Freedom, is a nonprofit online newspaper that began publication on February 7, 2012. Dedicated to uncovering the stories that the professional left hopes will never see the light of day, the Free Beacon produces in-depth and investigative reporting on a wide range of issues, including public policy, government affairs, international security, and media criticism.
Let’s start with 501(c)4 because that’s good, solid disclosure right there.
501(c)(4) organizations are generally civic leagues and other corporations operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare, or local associations of employees with membership limited to a designated company or people in a particular municipality or neighborhood, and with net earnings devoted exclusively to charitable, educational, or recreational purposes. 501(c)(4) organizations may lobby for legislation, and unlike 501(c)(3) organizations they may also participate in political campaigns and elections, as long as its primary activity is the promotion of social welfare. The tax exemption for 501(c)(4) organizations applies to most of their operations, but contributions may be subject to gift tax, and income spent on political activities – generally the advocacy of a particular candidate in an election – is taxable.
Contributions to 501(c)(4) organizations are usually not deductible as charitable contributions for U.S. federal income tax, with a few exceptions. 501(c)(4) organizations are not required to disclose their donors publicly. This aspect of the law has led to extensive use of the 501(c)(4) provisions for organizations that are actively involved in lobbying, and has become controversial.
Oh, one of those. Why does this sound familiar? Oh, that’s right. Stephen Colbert illustrated their newfound importance:
In an October 2011 email to his supporters Colbert explained how his 501(c)(4) can be used to legally launder anonymous donations to his Super PAC, “Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow.”
As you know, when we began Colbert Super PAC, we had a simple dream; to use the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling to fashion a massive money cannon that would make all those who seek the White House quake with fear and beg our allegiance…in strict accordance with federal election law.
And you’ve responded generously; giving your (or, possibly, your parents’) hard-earned money in record numbers. And although we value those donations, we were somewhat surprised to note that none of them ended in “-illion”.
That is why I formed the Colbert Super PAC S.H.H., a 501(c)(4), to help lure the big donors. As anybody who thumbs through the tax code on the toilet knows, a 501(c)(4) organization is a nonprofit that can take unlimited donations and never has to report the donors. This should be especially helpful considering that establishing this new 501(c)(4) has quadrupled our parentheses budget.
Already, we have gotten a massive donation from [NAME WITHHELD], a kind and [ADJECTIVE WITHHELD] person who only wants to [OBJECTIVE WITHHELD].
What little we thus know about The Washington Free Beacon is that it purports to be an “online newspaper” (now there’s an oxymoron) for that particular kind of organization. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. If someone wants to write articles that cite no credible resources and that refer constantly to unnamed sources and expect those articles to see the light of day, having a not-entirely-tax-deductible organization pay you for the privilege is probably a bit more lucrative than merely running a blog. And if one wants to whip Gateway Pundit commenters and the like into a froth of fringe paranoia, it probably helps to do it under the auspices of an organization that makes no bones about its anti-left bias.
Now, what about the particular 501(c)4 in question, the Center for American Freedom?
Pardon me. ROFLMAO!#$!@#$)(*HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
As quoted in the ThinkProgress article:
Impressed by the effectiveness of the liberal Center for American Progress, a group of conservative journalists and operatives are preparing to engage in their own sincerest form of flattery – launching an advocacy group with a similar name and mission but a very different target.
Part assault on CAP and part homage, the Center for American Freedom’s goal is to wage a well-funded assault on the Obama White House and the liberal domination of partisan online media.
Based in Washington, it will have an annual budget of “several million dollars,” according to its chairman, Michael Goldfarb, and will house a new conservative online news outlet, the Washington Free Beacon, edited by former Weekly Standard writer Matthew Continetti. It will also include a campaign-style war room led by two former chiefs of the Republican National Committee’s vaunted research operation.
Politico – How to fight liberals: imitate them, Ben Smith, January 5, 2012
And the update from ThinkProgress:
Koch has issued a statement denying “any involvement” with the Center for American freedom [sic]. The statement does not mention that the chairman of the new organization is on their payroll or the other connections detailed above. They also deny providing any funding to the group.
Last, but hardly least, let’s take a little look at the author of the allegations in the Washington Free Beacon article, Bill Gertz.
On the one hand, he’s been around.
Bill Gertz is an American editor, columnist and reporter for The Washington Times. He is the author of six books and writes a weekly column on the Pentagon and national security issues called “Inside the Ring”. During the administration of Bill Clinton Gertz was known for his stories exposing government secrets [emphasis added]. He is also an editor for the Washington Free Beacon.
Never mind that I can’t get the name Julian Assange out of my mind, or that WikiLeaks has been designated an “enemy of the state.” Just. Never. Mind.
Of the books to Gertz’ credit, one of them received the following less than stellar review:
This book appears to be a platform for Gertz to air some deep-seeded personal beefs with American intelligence agencies and operators. Written in more a tabloid-esque recounting of well-known shortfalls within American intelligence, this diatribe fails to provide any answers to the serious problems he attempts to point out. Gertz continuously cites unnamed ‘intelligence officials’ and ‘intelligence executives’ that he had conversations with as proof of his main points and, additionally, utilizes two or three main sources, the main one being I.C. Smith, to both support his assertions as well as condemn the same establishments. (As another review for this book states, which is it?) Gertz fails to provide one citation for any information provided and often claims he had the inside track classified information, which if true, would be subject to prosecution for mishandling of such information. All this calls into question the legitimacy of his authority on the subject or at the very least, his ability to make a coherent argument.
All in all, this book fails to provide any answers of any substance. He starts a chapter by walking through the tenets of a past penetration of US intelligence (and on at least two occasions utilizes the book as a place to tout his own publishing abilities claiming that he broke this or that story) and proceeds to meander through other topics that are, at best, loosely affiliated with his chapter’s thesis. The end result is a patchwork amalgamation of various criticisms the Gertz maintains of US intelligence and needed a place to write it down. If you know anything about US intelligence, don’t waste your time reading this book and rehashing the stories everyone already knows just to make it to an end which provides nothing profound or new in its final analysis.
Apparently, I’m not the first to note that Gertz doesn’t always bother with citations and named sources.
So, there we have it. Someone on the Internet said something without a shred of evidence to back it up. If the evidence exists, there’s an incredible likelihood that federal laws may have been broken insofar as classified information may (or may not) have been leaked. That person has a long history of extreme partisanship and now works for an organization “not” involved with Koch. Gateway Pundit picked up on the “story” almost immediately.
Let the judicious reader decide whether or not there is any merit to the beginning of what may just be another neocon farce. As for me, I’ll be hoping that the Obama administration opens an investigation into the alleged leaks provided the event and the leaks even actually occurred.
Monday Morning Updates (10/1/2012)
Politico, 10/1/2012 6:11 AM
None of the White House’s secure, classified computer systems were affected, said the official, who reached out to POLITICO after the Free Beacon story appeared — without having been asked for comment. Nor had there been any attempted breach of a classified system, according to the official.
Sunday’s story was the latest Free Beacon report to cast President Barack Obama as weak on national security or defense — the Chinese hack attempt “highlights a failure of the Obama administration to press China on its persistent cyberattacks,” it said.
Business Insider, 10/1/2012 8:06 AM
There’s two things that should be mentioned in both reports, but are conspicuously absent.
Number one: A spear phishing hack isn’t really a hack, nor is it that sophisticated. It’s when a user opens an email that looks official, which then asks for verification of certain private details, like passwords or detailed user information.
[...]Number two: An unclassified network is the government’s way of saying “basic internet.” In the military, or in government, there are two networks: there’s the unclassified, or the “low side,” and there’s the encrypted classified, or the “high side.”
Last thing I did before I went to bed was send an inquiry to the White House via whitehouse.gov. Was that the inquiry that prompted the administration to reach out to Politico? This humble writer may never know.