How a DNC Staffer's Murder Is Being Used by Russia

August 10, 2016

No one but the killers know for sure why Seth Rich, a 27-year-old staffer at the Democratic National Committee, was shot to death last month in D.C., but the circumstances strongly suggest he was the victim of street crime, and very possibly a robbery gone awry. The killing happened at 4:20 in the morning on Sunday, July 10th, near the house Rich rented with friends in Northwest D.C.. Some reports describe Bloomingdale—the neighborhood where the killing occurred—as "affluent," but this is a partial truth at best. Bloomingdale is a recently gentrified part of Washington, and was until only a few years ago the scene of regular gun violence and a robust narcotics trade. As recently as 2012 there were signs posted in the neighborhood by the D.C. government stating that people arrested for buying drugs there were liable to have their cars seized. Today, it still borders unsafe areas, and is easily the kind of place where a criminal, or group of criminals, could prey upon an unprepared young man who had been drinking.

Rich's murder remains unsolved, but the reason it is in the news today is that Julian Assange's Wikileaks is offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of his killers, while Assange himself has gone as far as to imply that Rich was the source of the DNC emails released last month by Wikileaks in a (successful) effort to damage the Clinton campaign. Assange clearly intends to fuel the conspiracy theories that Rich's death has inspired, which promote the idea that the Clintons had Rich killed, apparently in retribution for the leak.

For the record, there is zero evidence that this explanation is true. The best that proponents can point to is that Rich still had his wallet, watch, and credit cards on him when his body was discovered. From this we are meant to conclude that he was the victim of assassins, and not of a robber or robbers who ran after their victim resisted (his body had defensive wounds on it) and things got out of hand.

On the contrary, there is substantial circumstantial evidence that points in rather the opposite direction. The expert consensus on the source of the DNC emails is that they came from an outsider hacking into the DNC's system, rather than an insider leaking them out. The FBI suspects that the hackers were working for the Russian government. Assange denies this, as does Russia. The denials are pretty rich, considering that Wikileaks is widely understood to do the bidding of the Russian government—indeed, to constitute an important weapon in the arsenal of Putin's information operations.

Assange and the Russians have a clear interest in obscuring these facts, and it makes far more sense to see Assange's actions in this light: as the cynical exploitation of a young man's tragic death to further sinister ends. Assange's words and deeds aid (however weakly) the Kremlin's preferred candidate, Donald Trump, and, more to the point, contribute to the net chaos of American politics in 2016, a clear goal of Russian policy.

This is not a conspiracy theory, but a fair reading of the circumstantial evidence. Russian information operations are here, America. Welcome to the war.