Home > Analysis > How Americans Are Looking at the Russian Hacks All the Wrong Way

How Americans Are Looking at the Russian Hacks All the Wrong Way

It is clear now that while the 2016 U.S. election may be over, much of the bitter rancor remains.  The latest controversy now swirls over how long-time foe Russia may have hijacked America’s election to secure a Trump presidency.

Americans seem to be transfixed by this latest treachery, with President Obama promising retributions, but Trump warning against politicizing American Intelligence.

American penchant for partisan bickering and concerns about foreign interference, however, appear to be” much ado about nothing.”

Lest people forget, up until the eve of the election, the Princeton Election Consortium for example – in line with many other news organizations – had placed Clinton’s chances of winning at 99%. Few had given Trump much chance of winning.

Whatever bad blood the DNC emails had been spilled between the Sanders and Clinton camps, Clinton was able to unite her Party quickly. Whatever embarrassing details the Podesta emails revealed, stories about those emails were far eclipsed by the mysterious simultaneous leakage of a video of a younger Trump bragging about groping women. And however distracting news hoaxes about Clinton mishandling email server or sex proved to be, those never dominated the news cycle the way news accusing Trump of racism, sexism, or hate did.

Hackers and whistle blowers have always harbored their own private agendas, yet we  traditionally judge information by its merits, not by the intent of the leakers.  So why the fuss about Russian intent and motives now?

Since at least the end of WWII, America has prided in giving political actors free reign to use hyperbole and narratives – including rhetoric that borders on being “untruthful” – to get their points across. In the recent years, America has chastised nations such as China for trying to clean up “fake news” on its social media, deriding it categorically as censorship.

Yet,  in the aftermath of Trump’s election – in a strange throwback to the early years when Alien and Sedition Acts were the laws of the land – many are calling on journalists to take on more responsibilities by refusing to report on “gossipy” or “non-credible” news. Others have called for Facebook, Twitter and other social media to weed out “fake news” on their networks.

Politifact.com recently ranked only 15% of Trump’s statements to be true or mostly true while 51% of Clinton’s to be true or mostly true.  For some, the fact that Trump is elected is testament that democracy cannot function in an anything-said-goes environment. Trump could never have been elected had rationality prevailed.

For others, appeals to “truthfulness” is always suspect. Much of America’s “fact-checking” industry, they would point out, has been historically biased. What is commonly accepted as factual or not can be more tied to on one’s worldview than actual “fact.” And should American society continue to fragment, more and more Americans would come to see much of what is reported in “mainstream” media as biased and ultimately … “fake.”

Perhaps it takes the election of a figure as controversial as Trump to reveal some of the hidden inconsistencies of American democracy. But many around the world have long been perplexed by how Americans could generally accept laws that govern how food nutrition and drug information are labelled – or how financial information is disclosed – but not any laws on how political ideas are formulated and communicated – even where misinformation and disinformation can lead to social distrust and unrest.

Is America ready for a rethink?

If not, perhaps Americans should at least some thought to advancing global norms against foreign meddling.

As bad as the most recent allegations of Russian meddling may be, America has long done far worse to influence politics abroad.  American government – directly and through its various NGOs – jas a long history of not just exposing unsavory information about foreign governments and leaders, but also carrying out espionage and clandestine operations in foreign soils – against adversaries and allies alike.

America can continue to rely on its strength and go it alone in conducting foreign meddling.  Or it could seek a common understanding with the rest of the world and get  everyone to exercise some self-restraint.

Americans would do themselves and the world a big favor by spending more efforts discussing these issues – and less time engaging in partisan bickering and stoking xenophobia.

[Editor’s Note: A slightly different version of this post was recently published at the South China Morning Post.  (pdf version archived here)]

  1. January 5th, 2017 at 10:40 | #1

    Someone by email noted to me also that the enemy of the day is always hacking anyways…

    See, e.g., http://www.moonofalabama.org/2017/01/the-enemy-du-jour-is-always-hacking-.html

    The Enemy Du Jour Is Always Hacking

    Three pieces in the same leading newspaper show how little changes with “hacking” stories when the powers-that-are decide that some country is now the “enemy.”

    1. By NYT staff reporter Erich Lichtblau: Increase in Electronic Attacks Leads to Warning on Hackers and U.S. Safety

    Intelligence officials are concerned that a recent rise in electronic attacks against government and military computer networks in the United States may be the work of pro-[country] hackers and could signal a “potential crisis” in national security, according to a classified F.B.I. assessment.

    The assessment, prepared last week by the National Infrastructure Protection Center at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, warned intelligence officials that the attacks, which have been relatively limited, are likely to grow more widespread and “more dangerous” as tension over a possible war against [country] grows.

    American intelligence analysts say they have long been concerned by the notion that Al Qaeda could use computers to wage terror — disrupting water treatment plants or nuclear facilities, for instance. Experts say the link between [country] and computer hacking may have been underestimated and poses a growing threat to United States security.

    “[Country] is certainly among the places in the world that we think a cyberattack might well be launched from,” Representative Robert E. Andrews of New Jersey, a Democrat on the House Armed Service Committee who has been active on cyberwarfare issues, said in an interview.

    Mr. Andrews noted that computer attacks were difficult to trace and could be damaging, which he said met ‘s goals. “A cyberattack really fits [country]’s [leader] paradigm for attacking us,” he said.

    2. By NYT staff reporter Nicole Perlroth: Cyberespionage Attacks Tied to Hackers in [country]

    SAN FRANCISCO — An elaborate, three-year cyberespionage campaign against United States military contractors, members of Congress, diplomats, lobbyists and Washington-based journalists has been linked to hackers in [country].

    The campaign compromised the computers of some 2,000 victims and went unnoticed since 2011, according to a report to be released Thursday by iSight Partners, a computer security firm in Dallas.

    American intelligence officials have long said [country]’s hackers are a serious threat, [..]

    [L]ast year, American officials said [country] hackers were behind a wave of attacks on several American oil, gas and electricity companies,that officials described as probes looking for ways to disrupt critical processing systems.

    3. By NYT staff reporter Erich Lichtblau: Computer Systems Used by Clinton Campaign Are Said to Be Hacked, Apparently by [country]

    WASHINGTON — Computer systems used by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign were hacked in an attack that appears to have come from [country]’s intelligence services, a federal law enforcement official said on Friday.

    The apparent breach, coming after the disclosure last month that the Democratic National Committee’s computer system had been compromised, escalates an international episode in which Clinton campaign officials have suggested that [country] might be trying to sway the outcome of the election.

    Clinton campaign officials have suggested that [leader] of [country] could be trying to tilt the election to Mr. Trump, who has expressed admiration for the [country]’s leader. But the campaign officials acknowledge that they have no evidence. The Trump campaign has dismissed the accusations about [country] as a deliberate distraction.

    The first piece was published on January 17 2003, the country is Iraq and the leader is Saddam Hussein.

    The second piece was published on May 29 2014, the country is Iran.

    The third piece was published on July 29 2016, the country is Russia and the leader is Vladimir Putin.

  2. pug_ster
    January 5th, 2017 at 15:16 | #2

    Funny how Western propaganda blames Russia that they hacked John Podesta’s account using the password = ‘password’. Not just that CNN used footage from the video game Fallout 4 of how ‘sophisticated’ Russians are in hacking.

  3. January 5th, 2017 at 16:33 | #3

    According to the NYT, Clapper testified in front of the senate to state that Russia has truly meddled in US election.

    Mr. Clapper added that “our assessment now is even more resolute” that the Russians carried out the attack on the election. President Obama received a classified briefing on the intelligence community’s findings today, followed by one for Mr. Trump on Friday. An unclassified report will be released to the public next week.

    The hacking was only one part of the Russian endeavor, which also included the dissemination of “classical propaganda, disinformation, fake news,” Mr. Clapper said.

    One question I have is what propaganda was spread. …

    Then I found this: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/top-administration-officials-testify-on-russian-hacking-cyber-threats/

    Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana, asks Clapper “how far up the chain does this go” on Russian hacking?

    “I can’t speak to that in this setting,” Clapper says.

    Clapper again talked about Russia’s “multifaceted campaign” against the U.S. He said, for example, that RT, which is funded by the Russian government was “very, vert active in promoting a particular point of view, disparaging our system, our alleged hypocrisy about human rights, etc.”

    Russia used RT, social media, fake news, Clapper said. “They exercised all of those capabilities in addition to the hacking. The totality of that effort, not only as DNI, but as a citizen, is a grave concern.”

    So the specific example that was given was RT? Isn’t this ludicrous? RT presents the Russian perspective – spin if you will – on things. So its existence and purpose – known very publicly by everyone – now constitutes a primary example of Russian meddling?

    As for proof of direct Russian interference. None was given – except that historically Russians have used Middle men (third party) to do things… Huh??? That’s your proof – indirect historical circumstantial evidence???

    See also http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-01-05/russian-hacking-story-changes-again

    Today at 9:30 am, senior U.S. intelligence officials face questions at a Senate hearing that will be dominated by the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia meddled in the presidential election to help Donald Trump win. Participating will be James R. Clapper, Jr., Director Of National Intelligence. Marcel J. Lettre II, Under Secretary Of Defense For Intelligence and Admiral Michael S. Rogers, USN, Commander, United States Cyber Command.

    The Armed Services Committee’s cyber threats hearing on Thursday comes a day before the president-elect is to be briefed by the CIA and FBI directors — along with the director of national intelligence — on the investigation into Russia’s alleged hacking efforts. Trump has been deeply critical of their findings, even appearing to back controversial WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s contention that Russia did not provide him with hacked Democratic emails.

    … the hearing comes hours after Reuters reported overnight that U.S. intelligence agencies obtained what they considered to be conclusive evidence after the November election that Russia provided hacked material from the Democratic National Committee to WikiLeaks. However, in the latest change of the narrative, this time the allegation is that Russia provided the hacked data through a third party, three U.S. officials said on Wednesday.

  4. ali saw
    January 5th, 2017 at 23:02 | #4

    Hi Allen and all:- I’m new comer to the blog. Well, have been following up your articles and found interesting and meaningful.
    What I found is that as the world gets more chaotic, a ‘new world order’ is slowly taking shape. Unitary will be taken over by multi polar representations headed by China/Russia.
    I feel US is at the twilight days. The reason is that America faltering political system is dragging down the country over the cliff. As Francis Fukuyama says ‘..vetocracy is strangling the country and only a revolution could unlock it..’
    We may be seeing a ‘revolution’ happening in US, but is it powerful enough to revamp the whole decaying system ?.
    Trump may have won by unorthodox ways. However the hallmark of ‘vetocracy’ still prevails because the ‘old hawkist faces’ of the bureaucrats are very much alive in the new line up.
    Bringing back jobs and make America great again by spending more budget on arms are not answer to Institutional problems. I’m sure 99% group of people are not asking for that. A true ‘revolutionist’ has to come from the grass root, not one from the top who enjoys the system that fills his needs.
    Capitalists control America and Arm Industries are on the top list. Imagine with 3 generals advising Trump on how to make peace?.
    The National Debts are hitting $20 trillions and all his programs involve big big money.
    The only way out are to borrow and print more.
    Making America great again in 4 years (he may be out the next term) is wishful thinking for the present system doesn’t allow it to happen!.
    Only a capable ‘Centralise Government ‘ with long term planning could allow that.
    All I see US is becoming very desperate and futile in finding an curable prescription for its ailing and troubled conditions.
    And Trump is going to trumple US and the world to make it worst.
    A businessman always sees who is his greatest rival.
    Russia is not but China is.
    Russia with only military strength without strong economic base is only one leg standing on sand.
    China has all the 2 ingredients and is growing fast.
    Trump’s strategic move to court Russia is to focus his attention on China without creating another front to worry.
    After all, by scale and might, US is already the most powerful military nation on earth.
    What she worries most is economic power.
    America’s DNA is not to become 2nd. fiddle.
    His pivot to Asia is more aggressive than Obama ( Obama sets alot of time-bombs.)
    To scale up military buildups, red line on SCS, playing the Taiwan card on ‘One-China’ etc.
    His erratic rhetoric is misconstrued as ‘…Saddam must go..,..Gaddafi must go..,..Assad must go.., ..’One China’ must go..’.
    The question now is China sleeping well?.
    I think for the 1st. 6 months will be very challenging.
    But I believe America will feel the crack first, both inside and outside.
    A divided country will push him to the edge.
    Outside, the world is not his play ground anymore.
    Guy like Peter Navarro is a play toy for China.
    His 3 books ‘theories’ will be his personal gaffe because they just don’t hold water.
    China economic chess move will teach him a good lesson.
    After G20 and Apec, China’s moment has arrived.
    America’s hibernation is China’s globalization.
    With statecraft diplomacy and trade partnerships, the world will turn to China to lead.
    2017 is the watershed of global event.
    Hope China would handle and contain the ‘flash points’ with tact and care.
    Firm resolve without fear is China’s stand.
    If things goes well, I’m not surprise China’s ‘Belt and Road’ will reach US too!.

  5. Charles Liu
    January 11th, 2017 at 10:03 | #5

    This is yet another veil pulled over the American people. Instead of holding our leaders and policy makers accountable, we are led to look to manufactured enemy to blame.

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