I read it. It is short. It says nothing we did not know already: Putin’s Russia has a persecution complex and is trying to subvert western powers largely out of habit, but does so incompetently.
Speculation over what might be in the report could fill volumes, for a report of 55 pages, where the live content could be fitted on about two of them. Conspiracy theorists are furious.
The idea that the Brexit referendum was influenced by Russian operatives was exploded long ago: the only noticeable activity by Russian bot factories was after the result, and very few people saw whatever inanities appeared on Twitter anyway. The Scottish Referendum could have been meaty, but again the only thing the Report could identify was some clumsy disinformation after the event trying to suggest irregularities, and that explicitly came from Russia so nae bother, eh?
The voice of frustration comes out in the Report: we cannot see what the Russkies did to our votes! Well, no – because they didn’t do anything except the things which were done so clumsily and so late they might as well have hung a banner saying ‘Vladimir was here’ on them. Twitter is not magic; it does not sway elections on its own.
The big splash story trailed beforehand was that during the election campaign Russian intelligence leaked to their pal Jeremy Corbyn parts of the trade negotiation with the United States. We knew that at the time though – Fay even posted about it at the time on this site (in cod-Russian: sorry).
The main lessons to be learned from this report concern influencers finding their way through high society, but that should be no surprise. It is the usual practice of intelligence agencies to search for influential men, easily flattered, to act as their ‘useful idiots’ – it is just the experience of Russia to find the word ‘useful’ is not the right one.
(Russia’s intelligence community has repeatedly proven itself to be maladroit, blundering, incapable of effective action. They can’t even assassinate a dissident without leaving clumsy great paw-prints over everything. That is a comfort at least.)
A positive was that the report acknowledged that our paper voting system is robust and largely impenetrable to would-be fraudsters. Electronic voting could be vulnerable if Russia took an interest (and yes, Estonia, we are looking at you.)
The Report wanted to find more. It was, it must be remembered, written by a committee of the Zombie Parliament chaired by a man of great intelligence but who was so determined to overturn Brexit that he repudiated the Conservative manifesto and was even willing to conspire with a hostile foreign power to defeat the interests of his own country. A worthy winner of the Casement Award indeed. The Report wanted to find that Brexit was tainted by Russian interference, and expresses frustration that it was not.
Move along: there’s nothing here to see.
Of course there are calls to change the law after a report that has generated so much publicity. Some want to censor the internet (now what true sociopath wouldn’t want that job?) Maybe they will try to deal with those useful idiots. This might though prompt a change in the law that Andrea Jenkys one proposed: locking up anyone who assists a foreign power to defeat the British government in its negotiations.
There is something missing as I read through these paper, and something that Mr Grieve did not ask to be investigated: when will we see a comprehensive report on European interference in British elections or the Brexit referendum?
- Accidental spies; useful idiots
- The five stages of Grieve
- Putin it like that, no
- 4 years ago we voted
- A Future for Freedom
- Further leak of US-UK trade talks
- We Need to Talk About Putin: Why the West gets him wrong, and how to get him right, by Mark Galeotti
- Putin: Russia’s Choice by Chris Hutchins
- All Out War: The Full Story of How Brexit Sank Britain’s Political Class by Tim Shipman
- Brexit: Why Britain Voted to Leave the European Union by Harold D. Clarke, Matthew Goodwin and Paul Whiteley
- Brexit: How the Nobodies Beat the Somebodies by Sebastian J. Handley
- Brexit and Ireland: The Dangers, the Opportunities, and the Inside Story of the Irish Response by Tom Connelly
- Beyond Brexit by Vernon Bogdanor
- From Partition to Brexit: The Irish Government and Northern Ireland by Donnacha O Beachain
- Brexit: Its Necessity and Challenge by Tony Kosuge
- Rising Tides: Facing the Challenges of a New Era by Liam Fox
- By Boris Johnson:
- For the Record by David Cameron