Why American Democrats May Be Right About Russia Using Lies in Next Email Dump


Image: Hillary Clinton. Public Domain

Top figures in America's Democratic Party are warning that any new release of emails that the Russians have hacked may contain lies aimed to damage Hillary Clinton's run for president.

Republicans have labeled such announcements by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and others as Democratic "spin." The Democrats are trying to prime the public to think that a new email dump will contain fabrications in order to minimize the damage of any embarrassing disclosures the dump contains, the Republicans assert.

This is one time where both sides got it right.

The Democrats are using a tested public-relations ploy to give them "plausible deniability" if there is another embarrassing email dump.

They are also right that the Russians may sprinkle lies into the dumped emails to try to increase the damage that the dump will inflict on Clinton.

Those of us who grew up in the Soviet Union know that government officials and the KGB often used fabrications against opponents. And that continues today in the Soviet Union's successor countries.

An ironic example is the late, KGB-trained former son-in-law of Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev presenting documents to an Austrian court that purported to prove that former U.S. President Bill Clinton was heading an international conspiracy against him.

The documents that Rakhat Aliyev gave the court, which was preparing to try him for two murders in Kazakhstan, alleged that in addition to Clinton, those out to get him included former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former American CIA Director James Woolsey.

After prosecutors objected that the documents were forgeries, the court brought in a renowned forgery expert who proved them right. In fact, it turned out, one of the skills the KGB taught Aliyev was forgery.

Facing life in prison for the murders, he hung himself in his cell in February of 2015.

A more high-profile example of spreading lies to inflict political damage was Russia's use early this year of a story about Middle Eastern immigrants in Germany gang-raping a 13-year-old girl who was part German and part Russian.

The story created firestorms in Germany, where people savaged Prime Minister Angela Merkel for letting in too many Middle Eastern immigrants, and in Russia, because of the girl's part-Russian heritage.

The Russian fury included politicians lambasting the Germans for failing to protect ethnic Russians on German soil and lots of "outrage stories" about the girl in the Russian media.

The problem is the story was made up. The girl admitted she had concocted it to prevent her parents from finding out the real reason she had been away from home for 30 hours: She had stayed overnight with a male friend.

The German authorities and media quickly told the public the truth. The Russians, angry over Germany's hard line on European Union sanctions that have hurt the Russian economy, let the rape story continue to stay out there, uncorrected.

Another high-profile example of the use of lies for political purposes in the former Soviet Union was a fake letter sent to Western news media about the health of Viktor Yushchenko, the pro-Western presidential candidate during Ukraine's Orange Revolution of 2004.

Russia's FSB, the successor to the KGB, had helped Viktor Yanukovych, Yushchenko's pro-Russian opponent in the presidential race, poison Yushchenko.

The poison was dioxin, which at the time was almost impossible to detect, but poison specialists in Austria discovered it and treated Yushchenko. Otherwise, he would have died.

The news in Ukraine that Yushchenko had been poisoned caused a voter backlash against Yanukovych, whose team came up with a list of strategies to try to reverse the damage.

One strategy was to send a fake letter to Western news media, supposedly from Yushchenko's doctor in Austria, saying that he had not been poisoned.

Not only was the letter sent, but some gullible news media did stories about the doctor saying Yushchenko had not been poisoned.

When the doctor learned about the fake letter, he quickly alerted the media, and the resulting stories further damaged Yanukovych's candidacy.

Yanukovych went on to steal the election in rigged vote counting, but a Ukrainian court overturned the victory, giving Yushchenko the presidency.

Donald Trump's recently resigned campaign chief, Paul Manafort, helped Yanukovych polish his image to the point that Yanukovych won Ukraine's presidential election in 2010. Four years later, Ukrainians rose up to oust Yanukovych for reneging on his promise to sign a treaty that would have paved the way for Ukraine to join the European Union.

Another political lie surfaced in a joint press conference that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan gave in Moscow 10 days ago.

The lie came as Putin tried to shore up support for the Eurasian Economic Union that he forced Armenia to join in 2015. Sargsyan's cave-in to Putin triggered demonstrations in Armenia, where many people had wanted their country to join the European Union.

At the press conference in Moscow, the Russian president said Armenia had achieved 10 percent economic growth since joining the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union. The problem was that Armenia's actual growth was a third of that -- just 3 percent.

Fabrications in the former Soviet Union don't always involve documents, and aren't always aimed at political opponents.

In 2011, then-19-year-old Armenian television actress Ani Yeranyan was horrified to learn that a porn video of her had been posted on YouTube.

Whoever had tried to damage her career had done a poor job on the video, however. It was clear to even casual observers that the woman in the video wasn't her.

The questions of who produced the video, and why, have never been answered.

These are just a handful of examples of officials and others in the former Soviet Union using lies to try to damage someone they have grudges against. There are likely hundreds of other examples -- or more.

So when top figures in America's Democratic Party warn that a new Russian email dump against Hillary Clinton may include fabrications aimed at damaging her, the world would be wise not to discount it.

Armine Sahakyan is a human rights activist based in Armenia. A columnist with the Kyiv Post and a blogger with The Huffington Post, she writes on human rights and democracy in Russia and the former Soviet Union.