Photo Courtesy of the Kremlin
Every UD intelligence agency has told us that the Russians hacked the 2016 Elections. They also say that the Russians DID NOT (successfully?) attack voting machines or the vote itself. Nor has there (yet?) been proof that the hacking was successful, and handed the election to the Trump camp. Although a Trump victory was the stated goal of hacking the election.
Any President of the United States needs to look at any such acquisition objectively, perhaps appointing an independent body to follow up on something so personal that objectivity may be impossible. To dismiss the threat from Russia, without any information to support the “non-hacking” position, sends a very bad message about how the Whitehouse will deal with bad news. As President, Trump will need to hear a lot of bad news, assuming that he attends his Presidential briefings. If he gets frustrated by issues he does not want to hear and adopts a “kill the messenger” approach, his briefing will eventually omit information that is ignored.
Trump could be justified in believing that Russia did not hack the Election IF he has another source of credible data (which he has not revealed), or if he was personally an expert in spycraft or cyber warfare. Trump, by his own admission, is not… although back in September when he was told that the Russians were testing the Internet and would possibly hack the election, Trump said that his 10-year-old son Baron might possess the skills to understand the issue.
More importantly, Trump said, “… we have to get very, very tough on cyber and cyber warfare. It is—it is a huge problem… The security aspect of cyber is very, very tough. And maybe it’s hardly doable.” When the issue of Russian hacking was previously brought up, Trump said it could have been China. As far back as 2012, Trump said that that the White House was being hacked by the Chinese. Why does Trump see Chinese political hacking as credible, yet find it “ridiculous” that Russians might do the same thing?
Let’s sort out a few terms. In the past, spycraft was all about spies. Before World War II, stealing state secrets meant human beings stealing documents and maps, verbally communicating secrets, buying a secret (for money, aid, or perhaps in exchange for other secrets) or compromising someone (sexually, criminally, financially, etc.) to obtain current or future information. This all happened in the “real world”, spies had to go behind enemy lines, physically entering other countries, usually with false names and counterfeit passports.
After WW II, human spies were supplemented by technology. This expanded the sources of intelligence and began a process where spies didn’t alway need to set foot on foreign soil. Photographs could be taken from high flying planes or offshore ships, telephones could be bugged, radios transmissions intercepted, and computers began to break codes and coordinate random information to indirectly determine when and where troop moved and if new weapons were used.
Today, most of our communications are electronic, so spying had to become electronic… entering the cyber sphere. But now that so much of our data and our economy was in cyber space, cyber spies were becoming more valuable than James Bond-type spies. James Bond would go beyond stealing the occasional Top Secret document, dabbling in assassinations, blowing up weapons factories and getting the girl before the closing credits.
Cyber spies rarely get the girl, but they do get a target rich environment. They can steal emails, plant false data, take down servers and knock down the Internet, turn off ATM’s, blow out every traffic light across a state, crash life support systems in a hospital, down air control systems and crash commercial planes, overload turbines at power plants and dams, killing thousands of people. All without ever setting foot in America, or leaving much evidence as to who did it. Without the need to move warships or troops, cyberspying can evolve into Cyberwar in just days, perhaps just hours.
In the 2016 Election, the key issues are less dramatic. The main issue was “manipulation of the media”. This breaks down into two actions by Russia. The first is breaking into servers to steal email (from Hillary Clinton, the Democratic National Convention, etc.). These emails were then handed over to Wikileaks and other social media sites, which spread these documents around the world. The second accusation is that the Russia added false information, making minor issues look more important.
We haven’t yet seen evidence that the Russians took on this project to elect Trump, but it seems likely. If Russia can hack Clinton and the DNC, why couldn’t they hack Trump and his supporters? We have to assume that the Russians did hack Donald Trump’s email but then chose not to release any of the information they found. Think about it. What are the chances that Donald Trump wrote an offensive email or two? If anything, Russia may have spent time keeping other hackers out of Trump’s email!
Spies would have been happy to find the launch our nuclear weapons in Clinton’s email, but they weren’t looking for Top Secret data. They want personally embarrassing emails. Nasty comments about important political figures, talking behind a celebrity’s back, personal pettiness, racism, sexism, any ‘ism that make a big voting bloc defect from the Clinton camp. In terms of spycraft, this kind of information is what you would call “pee-wee league.”
For perspective, let us turn to Henry Kissinger, a politician who rose up during the cold war between the US and Russia. In a recent interview on CBS This Morning, Kissinger stated, “Everybody has a hacking capability. And probably every intelligence service is hacking in the territory of other countries”. Even Trump agrees that the US has been repeatedly hacked by North Korea and China. Trump even acknowledges that individuals do hacking; Trump said the DNC hacking, “could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds. Why not Russia?
What if this isn’t about the 2016 Election? What if this is just an old habit? Russia and America have been spying on each other since the cold war. When the Soviet Union fell and the Russian Federation rose in 1991, what happened to all the communist spies?
One of those spies became the leader of Russia. Vladimir Putin started his career in the KGB as a counterintelligence agent (i.e. spy). If a political leader was raised as a spy, promoted as a spy, and was able to grab the big seat in Russia because of his connections to the intelligence community, wouldn’t he depend on this community to manage Russia’s interests? The SVR (the agency that replaced the KGB) has a comprehensive mandate under the “Law on Foreign Intelligence Organs”, which was approved by then President Boris Yeltsin in 1996. That mandate includes:
- Conduct electronic surveillance in foreign countries – One of the accusations against Russia is that they hacked data from Hillary Clinton and from the DNC, handing over those files to Wikileaks and similar sites. Looks like a bullseye.
- Conduct military, strategic, economic, scientific and technological espionage – It doesn’t specifically say, “interfere with the US election”, but if you put “military” together with “economic” and add a touch of “strategic”, and you can see where it falls under the SVR’s mandate to sway elections (and the electorate) to minimize risks to Russia.
- Implement active measures to ensure Russia’s security – AH! This takes us from just reading someone’s email to manipulating politics. Such as creating fake emails and including them in the release to Wikileaks. If this did happen, these “truth” sites may have been completely unaware of the original source of the data or that emails were manipulated before they were passed on.
If Putin has spies with a mandate to do exactly what they are accused of and if the US Intelligence community has extremely credible evidence that America was hacked by Russia, wouldn’t you think that the President-Elect would be… interested? When a President, or President to be, is told by all of his spymasters that another country is interfering in their Electoral process it requires their full attention and swift reaction.
Whatever the extent of the tampering, action needs to be taken now, or we can expect even greater interference in 2020. Even if Russia can be dissuaded from future interference, China, and North Korea have plans of their own. As do private hackers, “hacktivists” who believe that disruption can lead to social good. The number of cyber threats is rising. President Elect-Trump must give this issue more attention or we will find out just how hacked our elections can get!