Monday, January 16, 2017

9.7 - Footnote: Russian "hacking"

Footnote: Russian "hacking"

There is an important Footnote to that, which is why I had put Outrage of the Year off until this week: The impact of that stretches into this year and continues, in fact will require more discussion than I can give it here.

There was one other place blame for the Democrats' failure was laid: Russia. Blame Russia! Blame Russia! They hacked the election! They hacked the election! They hacked the election! Scream it over and over and wait for the paranoia to set in.

Now, note at the top that this does not mean that the Russians did not hack the DNC. It also does not mean that what WikiLeaks released did not ultimately come from a Russian source with enough intermediaries to conceal its true origin from the group.

What is does mean - beyond the fact that there is no evidence that even if the charges are true that the hacking made any difference in the outcome - and this is important, it means that the Democrats are so determined to put the blame for their embarrassing failure in losing to the most unpopular major-party presidential candidate in US history on someone else that they would rather ignite a new cold war than look in the mirror.

While it may well be true that the Russians hacked the DNC and perhaps other computers related to political parties, the actual evidence presented thus far is thin and the rhetoric is getting overheated, complete with dark McCarthyist mutterings about other "foreign actors," panicked and totally false reports that the Russians had hacked into the US power grid - it turned out to be a piece of malware found on a single laptop that was never connected to the grid - and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper charging the Russians with the most "aggressive, direct campaign to interfere in our election process" we've ever seen.

But here we come up against two problems, one of judgment, one of context.

The judgement lies in the determination of the spooks that the hacking was the result of a campaign ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin for the purpose of helping TheRump win the election. But how certain is that?

In an interview with the Reuters podcast War College, Mark Galeotti of the Institute for International Relations in Prague denied that such hacking, assuming Russian guilt, was done to help TheRump. Galeotti, whose specialty is the Russian government, maintained that the Putin government, like most others, thought that Clinton was a lock and was aiming to have her enter office as a damaged and therefore weakened president. Part of his reasoning, which I find persuasive, was that what leaders of great powers want more than anything else in their international affairs is predictability. And one thing on which most people would agree is that TheRump is not predictable. Now that TheRump is going to be president, Putin will try to take best advantage of that, but that doesn't mean it's a situation he actively desired.

And in fact, contrary to the headlines, the evidence backs that up, even if you have to dig to find it as our national media gins up the fear machine and buries the lede.

Consider for one example that on January 5, the Washington Post began an article by quoting unnamed US officials as saying that intercepted communications showed Russian officials congratulating themselves on the outcome of the election; the paper described the reaction as "ebullient."

You have to read down to the 20th graph, farther down that most readers get, to find that "the messages also revealed that top officials in Russia anticipated that Clinton would win" and that "Russian officials 'were as surprised as the rest of the world'" by the election results.

Which would appear to make Mark Galeotti a better judge than our entire intelligence apparatus.

Speaking of that apparatus, there is the matter of context. It's not necessary to justify or approve any Russian hacking, again assuming guilt which I'm prepared to do, to note that when we present ourselves as shocked, shocked to find election interference going on, we should expect to face an entire world rolling its eyes.

For one thing, directly relevant, have we forgotten the NSA? Have we forgotten that the NSA has a unit called Tailored Access Operations, the very mandate of which is to enable the spooks to hack any computer anywhere, any time? "Getting the ungettable" is the NSA's own description of the unit's duties.

And have we forgotten our own lengthy history of interfering in elections in other countries?

According to a database compiled by political scientist Dov Levin of Carnegie Mellon University, the US tried to influence the outcome of presidential elections in other countries as many as 81 times since 1946 - including, at least once, in Russia. Note well: That number does not include engineered coups such as in Guatemala and Iran, attempts to undermine disfavored governments such as in Chile or the Congo, or general (and open and legal) assistance with the electoral process, such as election monitoring. It is only cases of meddling in presidential elections.

Our history is so clear, our behavior so common, there's even a running joke in Latin America about it:

Q: Why has there never been a coup in the United States?
A: Because there's no US embassy in Washington.

So investigate -  calmly and carefully without all the rhetoric and overheated assumptions  - sure. Tighten your computer security against hacking, sure.

But ignite a new cold war because someone else wanted to play by our rules? I don't think so.

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