No, Russians Do Not Hack the FCC's Public Comments
EDITOR'S CHOICE | 08.03.2018

No, Russians Do Not Hack the FCC's Public Comments


A member of the Federal Communications Commission, Jessica Rosenworcel, wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post.

It is unlikely that the headline was chosen by the author of the op-ed. The editors of the Washington Postopinion page wrote it. I also doubt that she would have chosen a picture of the FCC head to decorate her piece.

For the record: The headline is false.

The op-ed is about a request for comments the Federal Communications Commission issued last year in preparation of its net-neutrality decision. Anyone, and anything, could comment multiple times. Various lobbying firms, political action groups and hacks abused the public comment system to send copy-paste comments via single-use email accounts or even without giving any email address.

But this had and has nothing to with Russia or Russians.

Here are the top graphs of the the WaPo op-ed with the "Russia-did-it" headline:

What do Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), deceased actress Patty Duke, a 13-year-old from upstate New York and a 96-year-old veteran from Southern California have in common?

They appear to have filed comments in the net neutrality record at the Federal Communications Commission. That ought to mean they went online, submitted their names and addresses, and typed out their thoughts about Internet regulatory policy. But appearances can be deceiving. In fact, each of these individuals — along with 2 million others — had their identities stolen and used to file fake comments.

These fake comments were not the only unnerving thing in the FCC net neutrality record. In the course of its deliberations on the future of Internet openness, the agency logged about half a million comments sent from Russian email addresses. It received nearly 8 million comments from email domains associated with with almost identical wording.

I have emphasized the only words in the whole op-ed that are related to Russia. They are wrong. The author of that op-ed does not understand the FCC public comment system. Public comments are made by filling out a form on the FCC website leaving ones comment, some address data and an email address. Public comments are not "send" by email. Thus the FCC did not log any comments "sent from Russian email". It logged comments made in a web form where the human (or program) making the comment provided a Russian email address as a means of contact. (It is obviously not expertise on such communication issues that qualifies Jessica Rosenworcel for her position as FCC commissioner.)

At least 12-13 million of the 21.7 million comments to the FCC were fake. 8 million email addresses entered in the form the FCC had set up were generated with, half a million were entered with *.ru Internet domains.

FakeMailGenerator can use foreign domains for generating throw-away email addresses. In the screenshot below it generated an Hungarian one for me.

If I would comment at the FCC and enter [email protected] into the FCC form I would be counted as Hungarian. I would not have "send" that comment from an Hungarian email address. Nor would entering the comment make me Hungarian. Neither do *.ru email domains mean that the people (ab-)using them have anything to do with Russia.

The Pew Research Center analyzed the 21.7 million comments the FCC received:

Fully 57% of comments used temporary or duplicate email addresses, and seven popular comments accounted for 38% of all submissions

The FCC and other agencies are required by law to accept public comments. But, as the op-ed says, it is utterly useless to request such public comments on the Internet without having some authentication system in place. The FCC had some email address verification system in place, but it did not use it. As the Pew Center writes:

[T]he Center’s analysis shows that the FCC site does not appear to have utilized this email verification process on a consistent basis. According to this analysis of the data from the FCC, only 3% of the comments definitively went through this validation process. In the vast majority of cases, it is unclear whether any attempt was made to validate the email address provided.

As a result, in many cases commenters were able to use generic or bogus email addresses and still have their comments accepted by the FCC and posted online.

It is obvious that the FCC had no interest at all in receiving legitimate public comments. But the FCC at least did not blame Russia. The Washington Post editors do that when they chose a headline that has no factual basis in the piece below it. They abuse the op-ed which has the presumed authority of an FCC commissioner to reinforce their anti-Russian propaganda campaign.

C. J. Hopkins notes that the cult of authority is systematically used to make the lunatic claims of Russiagate believable.

Matt Taibbi writes that the aim of the Russiagate campaign was and is to target all dissent:

If you don't think that the endgame to all of this lunacy is a world where every America-critical movement from Black Lives Matter to Our Revolution to the Green Party is ultimately swept up in the collusion narrative along with Donald Trump and his alt-right minions, you haven't been paying attention.

That's because #Russiagate, from the start, was framed as an indictment not just of one potentially traitorous Trump, but all alternative politics in general. The story has evolved to seem less like a single focused investigation and more like the broad institutional response to a spate of shocking election results, targeting the beliefs of discontented Americans across the political spectrum.

Some commenters here lamented about my posts about the Steele dossier and or Russiagate issues. "It's enough already." But the issue is, as Taibbi points out, much bigger. In November 2016 the Washington Post pushed the ProPornOT campaign which denounced some 200 non-mainstream websites as "Russian propaganda". This website is an "primary initial" target of that campaign.

If the campaign succeeds to its full intent, Moon of Alabama will no longer be accessible.

The Russiagate nonsense has do be debunked at each and every corner to prevent its further abuse against dissent on everything else.

Tags: Moon of Alabama