Seymour Hersh blasts media for uncritically promoting Russian hacking story
Jeremy Scahill, Intercept, Jan 25 2017
Jeremy Scahill’s interview with Seymour Hersh can be heard on The Intercept’s new weekly podcast, Intercepted,, below:
Seymour Hersh said in an interview that he does not believe the Pindo intelligence community proved its case that Putin directed a hacking campaign aimed at securing the election of Donald Trump. He blasted news organizations for lazily broadcasting the assertions of Pindosi intelligence officials as established facts. Hersh denounced news organizations as “crazy town” for their uncritical promotion of the pronouncements of the director of national intelligence and the CIA, given their track records of lying and misleading the public. Hersh said:
The way they behaved on the Russia stuff was outrageous. They were just so willing to believe stuff. And when the heads of intelligence give them that summary of the allegations, instead of attacking the CIA for doing that, which is what I would have done.
Hersh said most news organizations missed an important component of the story:
The extent to which the White House was going and permitting the agency to go public with the assessment.
Hersh said many media outlets failed to provide context when reporting on the intelligence assessment made public in the waning days of the Obama administration that was purported to put to rest any doubt that Putin ordered the hacking of the DNC and John Podesta’s emails. The declassified version of the report, which was released Jan 7 and dominated the news for days, charged that Putin “ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the Pindosi presidential election” and “aspired to help Pres-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Sec Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.”
According to the report, the NSA was said to have had a lower confidence level than DNI Clapper and DCI Brennan about the conclusion that Russia intended to influence the election. Hersh characterized the report as full of assertions and thin on evidence. Hersh told The Intercept:
It’s high camp stuff. What does an assessment mean? It’s not a national intelligence estimate. If you had a real estimate, you would have five or six dissents. One time, they said the seventeen agencies all agreed. Oh really? The Coast Guard and the Air Force, they all agreed on it? And it was outrageous and nobody did that story. An assessment is simply an opinion. If they had a fact, they’d give it to you. An assessment is just that, it’s a belief, and they’ve done it many times. Then they’re taking it to a guy that’s going to be president in a couple of days, they’re giving him this kind of stuff, and they think this is somehow going to make the world better? It’s going to make him go nuts! It would make me go nuts! Maybe it isn’t that hard to make him go nuts! If I had been covering the story, I would have made Brennan into a buffoon, a yapping buffoon in the last few days! Instead, everything is reported seriously!
Although critical of the Russia coverage, Hersh condemned the Trump administration’s attacks on the news media and its threats to limit the ability of journalists to cover the White House, saying:
The attack on the press is straight out of national socialism. You have to go back into the 1930s. The first thing you do is destroy the media. And what’s he going to do? He’s going to intimidate them. The truth is, the First Amendment is an amazing thing and if you start trampling it the way they (do), I hope they don’t do it that way, this would be really counter-productive. He’ll be in trouble.
Hersh also said he is concerned about Trump and his administration assuming power over the vast surveillance resources of the government. He said:
I can tell you, my friends on the inside have already told me there’s going to be a major increase in surveillance, a dramatic increase in domestic surveillance.
He recommended that anyone concerned about privacy use encrypted apps and other protective means. “If you don’t have Signal, you better get Signal.” While expressing fears about Trump’s agenda, Hersh also called Trump a potential “circuit-breaker” of the two-party political system. He said:
The idea of somebody breaking things away and raising grave doubts about the viability of the party system, particularly the Democrat Party, is not a bad idea. That’s something we could build on in the future. But we have to figure out what to do in the next few years. I don’t think the notion of democracy is ever going to be as tested as it’s going to be now.
In recent years, Hersh has been attacked for his investigative reports on a variety of policies and actions authorized by the Obama administration, but he has never backed down from his aggressive approach to journalism. His reportingon the raid that killed Osama bin Laden dramatically contradicted the administration’s story, and his investigation on the use of chemical weapons in Syria cast doubts on the official claim that Assad ordered the attacks. Although he has received many awards for his work, Hersh said praise and condemnation have no impact on his work as a journalist.