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Sean Hannity pushes conspiracy theory that CIA hacked Democrats, framed Russia

“Maybe I’m not so paranoid.”

White House press secretary Sean Spicer is interviewed by Sean Hannity in the briefing room of the White House on January 24. CREDIT AP Photo/Susan Walsh
White House press secretary Sean Spicer is interviewed by Sean Hannity in the briefing room of the White House on January 24. CREDIT AP Photo/Susan Walsh

A WikiLeaks summary of its dump of CIA cyberspying documents contains a few paragraphs about a CIA group called UMBRAGE that “collects and maintains a substantial library of attack techniques ‘stolen’ from malware produced in other states including the Russian Federation.”

As Business Insider details, some quickly seized upon the discussion of UMBRAGE, which WikiLeaks described as “facilitating false flag attacks,” to assert that the cyberattacks Russia used to meddle in the presidential election on behalf of Donald Trump might have been just that — a false flag.

Russia’s involvement in cyberattacks targeting Democratic targets has been thoroughly detailed in well-sourced news reports. The US intelligence community’s consensus conclusion is that Russian officials were ultimately responsible. That view is shared by most members of Congress, regardless of party affiliation, and was even reluctantly accepted by President Trump.

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Nonetheless, as is often the case with conspiracy theories of this sort, the idea that Russian meddling was just a CIA-created false flag quickly moved from the fringes of the internet to popular right-wing media.

Sean Hannity is perhaps the most prominent right-wing media figure to echo WikiLeaks’ suggestion that “Russian meddling” is a false flag. During his Wednesday radio show, Hannity said UMBRAGE means “the CIA can actually blame Russia for an attack on an American, because they’ll put their fingerprints all over the attack. Meanwhile it came from within.”

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“Well, did that happen in this case or do you think Hannity’s really paranoid right now, losing his you-know-what?” he added. “Maybe I’m not so paranoid.”

Despite the fact his own TV network has independently confirmed Russia’s involvement in the election meddling, Hannity also asked Wikileaks for help in confirming that hacking by Russia was actually a CIA false flag.

On Wednesday, several guests on Hannity’s show suggested the conspiracy theory could be true. None of them could cite any evidence indicating it actually is, however.

The notion that an intelligence agency Trump has openly feuded with resorted to underhanded tactics to discredit his victory and presidency has obvious appeal to people like Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, who said on his Tuesday radio show that in the wake of the WikiLeaks dump, he’s “leaning toward being near certain that this entire pretext of Trump working with the Russians to affect the outcome of the election, folks, it is so ridiculous.” But there’s no evidence to support it, and a report from The Intercept suggests WikiLeaks is fundamentally misunderstanding the CIA documents.

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In a piece titled “WikiLeaks Files Show The CIA Repurposing Hacking Code To Save Time, Not To Frame Russia,” The Intercept’s Kim Zetter writes that “[i]f the CIA were actually re-using source code unique to a specific hacking group this could lead forensic investigators to mis-attribute CIA attacks to the original creators of the code. But the documents appear to say the UMBRAGE group is writing snippets of code that mimic the functionality of other hacking tools and placing it in a library for CIA developers to draw on when designing custom CIA tools.”

An expert Zetter spoked to, Errata Security CEO Robert Graham, said that nothing in the WikiLeaks dump suggests the CIA is actually perpetrating false flag attacks.

“Elsewhere they talk about obscuring attacks so you can’t see where it’s coming from, but there’s no concrete plan to do a false flag operation,” he said. “They’re not trying to say ‘We’re going to make this look like Russia.’”

The CIA false flag story isn’t the first bit of fake news Hannity has pushed in recent weeks. Late last month, Hannity tweeted out a Gateway Pundit story that purported to show “globalist war criminal John McCain requested campaign donations from the Russians!” But the story, which cited “Reddit users” as sources, was debunked eight years ago. Hannity later deleted his tweet and apologized to McCain.