The left-leaning magazine The Nation appended a lengthy editor's note atop its controversial report that alleged the Democratic National Committee hack in the summer of 2016 was almost certainly an inside job, saying the magazine should have more carefully scrutinized the underlying assumptions upon which the article was based.
The note, which was added on Friday, three weeks after the original article's publication, said the story had been fact-checked to ensure the report accurately described the conclusions of a private group of former intelligence officials called Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), but the magazine "should have made certain that several of the article's conclusions were presented as possibilities, not as certainties."
"And given the technical complexity of the material, we would have benefited from bringing on an independent expert to conduct a rigorous review of the VIPS technical claims," the note says.
VIPS was the group that claimed in a July memo that technical forensic evidence indicated it would be impossible for a hacker to have nabbed the DNC's data from afar and, therefore, the breach was assuredly the work of an insider. The VIPS findings, which became the backbone of The Nation report, would have been hugely consequential, if true, since they directly contradict the conclusions of the U.S. intelligence community that hacking groups linked to the Russian government were most likely the culprits.
However, after The Nation report was published, several cyber security experts told Code and Dagger that the VIPS analysis was, as one put it, "bogus" and that the forensic evidence didn't conclusively show anything.
"My point is that while the forensic data-point is good, there's just a zillion ways of explaining it. It's silly to insist on only the one explanation that fits your pet theory," cyber security researcher Robert Graham wrote at the time.
Thomas Drake, famed NSA whistleblower and a longtime member of VIPS, publicly distanced himself from his colleagues' memo, writing on Twitter, "I am a former NSA Exec & didn't sign this VIPS memo due to significant analytic, sourcing, data, date & tech issues." Drake, with some other colleagues, later published what The Nation called a "dissenting opinion" piece.
"The environment around Trump, Russia, et al. is hyperpolarized right now, and much disinformation is floating around, feeding confirmation bias, mirroring and even producing conspiracy theories," the dissenting opinion says. "The bottom line: This VIPS memo was hastily written based on a flawed analysis of third-party analyses and then thrown against the wall, waiting to see if it would stick."