OMG, Putin hacked into the power grid!

The Washington Post, which dutifully reported a new government intelligence analysis purporting to confirm that the Russians interfered with the presidential election, has followed up with alarming evidence that the Kremlin hacked into the U.S. power grid.

The report was immediately debunked as fake news, forcing the former political newspaper-of-record to update it with an embarrassing editor’s note. The entire story was based on information from unnamed federal officials, who leaked details of a security report by a Vermont utility that discovered malware on a company laptop matching sample code in last week’s intelligence report.

Contrary to the Post story, the laptop was not connected to the grid, which the reporters would have known had they bothered to call the utility for verification before rushing into print.

It’s unfortunate that an official or officials improperly shared inaccurate information with one media outlet, leading to multiple inaccurate reports around the country. ~ Burlington Electric.

Managers at the utility, Burlington Electric,  worked all night Friday and into the holiday weekend to correct the record after the Post’s story went viral on the Internet. The company issued a statement on Saturday saying federal officials told them the circumstances they reported had been observed before and didn’t necessarily originate in Russia.

“It’s unfortunate that an official or officials improperly shared inaccurate information with one media outlet, leading to multiple inaccurate reports around the country,” said Burlington Electric spokesman Mike Kanarick.

Following the release last Thursday of the joint analysis by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, critics were quick to point out that it contained no verifiable evidence that the Russians were behind separate intrusions into the email system of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the private email of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman. The report provided a few near-worthless technical details, including sample code of malware the agencies said was used in a coordinated Russian hacking operation they code-named “Grizzly Steppe.”

The day before the Kremlin didn’t hack Burlington Electric, the developers of WordFence, a high-level security plug-in for WordPress, posted results of a test they conducted on the sample malware code contained in the U.S. intelligence report. In a particularly damning conclusion, WordFence said the malware came from Ukraine, not Russia, and that it was an outdated version of a commonly available, free download.’

Wordfence also analyzed the IP addresses available and demonstrated that they are in 61 countries, belong to over 380 organizations … There is nothing in the IP data that points to Russia specifically.  ~ CEO Mark Maunder

[UPDATE, Jan. 2, 2017: WordFence, in response to questions on its blog and from the media, issued a FAQ that is much friendlier to lay readers (like me). It states even more emphatically that the FBI-DHS intelligence report is devoid of proof that the Russians were behind the hacking of the DNC.

“Wordfence also analyzed the IP addresses available and demonstrated that they are in 61 countries, belong to over 380 organizations and many of those organizations are well known website hosting providers from where many attacks originate. There is nothing in the IP data that points to Russia specifically,” said WordFence CEO Mark Maunder.

Further, Maunder quotes other independent researchers, one of whom suggests that the authors of the “Grizzly Steppe” report have no idea what they’re talking about. In a stinging critique, cybersecurity consultant Jeffrey Carr writes that the report “merely listed every threat group ever reported on by a commercial cybersecurity company that is suspected of being Russian-made and lumped them under the heading of Russian Intelligence Services (RIS) without providing any supporting evidence that such a connection exists.”]

Meanwhile, the Post could have avoided more self-inflicted damage to its credibility by printing a retraction rather than a lame “editor’s note” straight out of the Ministry of Truth stylebook. Unfortunately, this is becoming a pattern under the Bezos Revolution.

A story in early December quoted an anonymous source that had compiled a list of some 200 alternative media sites it said were spreading fake news and Russian propaganda. When some of those sites objected and threatened to sue for defamation, the Post updated the story with a bizarre editor’s note claiming that it didn’t “vouch for the validity” of the list. (John Helmer, an Australian-born investigative reporter in Moscow, wondered what would happen if Bezos instituted a similar policy at Amazon.)

[UPDATE #2, Jan. 2, 2017: The Post published a follow-up to the Burlington Electric story at 10 p.m. admitting they erred, but dug themselves deeper into the credibility gap with a long report essentially saying, “Yeah, but the Russians have the capability, so it could have happened!” Asked why it didn’t contact Burlington Electric to verify the report, a Post spokesman piled on still more bullshit, claiming that it wasn’t known at the time of publication which utility was affected. In other words, the Post violated its own journalistic standards by rushing into print with a story fed to them by an intelligence agency, without naming the source or confirming the account independently. How much more proof does anyone need that the Post has become a propaganda sheet for the U.S. government?]

The Post, and the corporate media in general, have been dutifully reporting the official Washington narrative for years, but the propaganda machine is in overdrive as the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump draws nearer.

Worse, it’s succeeding. My Facebook news feed contained alarmist comments by people frightened at the prospect of Russians taking out the U.S. power grid. Never mind that we’ve known for ages about the vulnerability of the national infrastructure and, according to media reports, the U.S. was planning to do exactly the same thing to the Russians if they dared tamper with our voting machines on Election Day.

The Washington Post’s lame follow-up to its fake news story reminded me of a line from the 2001 film, The Shipping News. It would be laughable, if the Post wasn’t involved in a dangerous assault on independent journalism.

Astrological notes: Mercury currently is in retrograde, which astrologers associate with an increase in incidents such as getting a story wrong and needing to print a retraction. However, this past year has seemed like one long Mercury retrograde, so we can’t leave the Messenger holding the bag for this one.

That said, confusion during a Mercury retrograde period often clears up after the planet returns direct. During this particular retrograde, there is the additional potential for hidden affairs and deceitful measures to be exposed when Mercury returns direct and retraces its path. The truth will begin to emerge after January 8. However, the biggest secrets won’t surface until late January, right around the New Moon. There are strong indications that they will be related to government intelligence operations.