While it may be probable that Russian agencies or those affiliated with them are responsible for hacking the DNC’s or the Clinton campaigns’ emails, I don’t know for sure.
The 17 intelligence agencies (mostly just two) that Hillary Clinton claims have found a direct link between “the highest levels of the Russian government” and recent Wikileaks revelations don’t really know as much as she wants them to:
The Obama administration only said that “Russia’s senior-most officials” directed the digital assault, not necessarily Russian President Vladimir Putin himself. For his part, Putin has denied any hand in the hacks.
The former secretary of state also slightly exaggerates the connection that intelligence officials have publicly made between the alleged Russian hackers and WikiLeaks.
While the intelligence community said that leaks earlier this year from WikiLeaks were “consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts,” it has not directly tied the recent WikiLeaks release of Clinton campaign chair John Podesta’s personal emails to Russia. When Clinton made these remarks during the debate, she was responding to a question on the content of the Podesta leaks.
SOURCE: “On Russian hacking connection, the U.S. isn’t as sure as Clinton says it is” | Politico | Cory Bennett | 10/19/2016
This signals that no one really knows, but also that there may be political value in not really knowing.
I do know that the Clinton campaign and its surrogates use the joint Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) statement to delegitimize WikiLeaks revelations that, curiously, they also haven’t refuted. Likewise, I know that our major corporate media outlets echo the “Russia did it” charge without demanding a single piece of evidence to support it.
I also know that these very same intelligence agencies told us that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, that they totally spaced on the collapse of the Soviet Union, and that the big brother among them (NSA) spied on the communications of our closest allies, most notably German Prime Minister Angela Merkel. I know (as everyone should) that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper lied when asked before Congress if any intelligence agencies were snooping on American citizens:
Lastly, I know that there’s a massive data center in Utah—essentially a $1.5 billion dollar hard drive—that sucks up every piece of information and data produced by our phones, computers, and anything else we might connect to the Internet.
The hypocrisy of a government that misleads us and compromises our privacy while accusing other parties of doing the same just might be our new normal. Normal now, too, is that stories like “Russia, WikiLeaks, and the Election of 2016” aren’t about what we know or don’t know at all. They’re about managing our perceptions towards a seemingly nebulous end.
To me, the actual truth of “The Podesta Files” is that the person most responsible for compromising his emails seems to be … John Podesta.
Some have speculated that leaving his phone in a taxicab and not getting it back for a while might be the source of Podesta’s email breach. The causal link proposed here seems specious, but it certainly should make us wonder about Podesta’s security habits.
Of greater relevance is that both Podesta and Colin Powell were the victims of an email phishing attack:
The email, however, didn’t come from the internet giant. It was actually an attempt to hack into his personal account. In fact, the message came from a group of hackers that security researchers, as well as the US government, believe are spies working for the Russian government. At the time, however, Podesta didn’t know any of this, and he clicked on the malicious link contained in the email, giving hackers access to his account.
SOURCE: “How Hackers Broke Into John Podesta and Colin Powell’s Gmail Accounts” | Motherboard | Lorenzo Francechi-Bicchierai | 10/20/2016
Podesta himself has attested to the truth of this account. Given his position and rank, we should again question his judgment. But what we should question even more is whether he was “hacked” at all.
Further, we should wonder how two of the most powerful men on the planet were duped by the same phishing attack that my mother called me about a year ago. She’s not at all tech savvy, but she had the good sense to ask me if Google would send her such an email—“because of all the hacking going on”—having already deciding to move it to her trash bin.
I submit that “hackers” didn’t “break into” anything, and that both Podesta and Powell willingly gave up their Google log-in credentials, though under false pretenses.
They weren’t robbed, they were scammed.
And, frankly, I’m not even sure that anything was “stolen,” from Podesta. To illustrate my point, consider this thought experiment:
Imagine that I’ve tricked you into giving me access to your home. I’m your locksmith and I made a second copy when you came to my shop to get a another house key. I use the surreptitious house key I’ve copied from yours to enter your house with a Star Treky replicator, which I then use to make exact copies of all your stuff. Then I leave, taking all the copied stuff with me.
That’s absolutely breaking and entering. But what have I stolen?
If your response is that “information” was stolen, then why is it that we hardly consider leaks of non-classified information “stolen,” as well? We’ve never figured out how anyone can truly “own information” by virtue of anything other than passwords, pay walls, and statutes. We haven’t cracked that nut precisely because we’ve reached a point where information can be reproduced for virtually $0 marginal cost. So how can something that’s essentially free be owned?
Whose interests are served by our thinking of The Podesta Files as we would think of his car or phone instead of as just ones and zeros? And who’s interests are either served or compromised by the sort of radical transparency that Julian Assange would inflict upon all structures of power, not just an American presidential campaign?
If it’s at least reasonable to question if Podesta was really hacked, if anything was really stolen, and if the claims made about the incident are less about a crime against an individual than they are about a campaign for our beliefs, then it’s critically important to dive deeper into what the “Russia, WikiLeaks, and the Election of 2016” narrative is really about.
Certainly, on one level, it’s about “foreign governments and agencies” posing “a threat to our democracy,” that “stolen information” is being used to weaken public faith in elections and the democratic process. This is a “contained” narrative that those who shape opinion, manage perceptions, and feed anxieties can adroitly control. (Is the presidential campaign scaring you? That’s by design.)
However, because it’s transparent propaganda, this particular narrative is easy to counter. The greatest threats to our democracy have been the many times that we’ve been anything but democratic. However, this narrative is difficult to ignore, because there’s another level on which it’s not about this year’s election at all.
A more “open-ended” narrative that political operatives and the media have a more difficult time managing is that the “Russia, WikiLeaks, and the Election of 2016” story is itself a small part of a larger narrative about America’s particular historical moment.
The grip that the US has had on the world order since the end of the Cold War is under stress. We’re moving from a unipolar to a multipolar era of international relations. Using some uncontroversial definitions from Wikipedia, by “unipolar,” I mean “a distribution of power in which one state exercises most of the cultural, economic, and military influence.” Likewise, by “multipolar,” I mean “a distribution of power in which more than four nation-states have nearly equal amounts of military, cultural, and economic influence.”
A shift towards multipolarity means America’s power, dominance, influence, institutions, and place as an example for the rest of the world is somehow receding or declining. Other nations such as Russia and China are scheming and maneuvering to fill the void. The extent to which this is true signals the return of the “great powers” mode of geopolitics that we currently see played by nations that were once on the sidelines. This makes the world order more disordered and increasingly more like international relations as they were before World War I than they ever were from the end of World War II to the start of the Iraq War.
Regardless of (or perhaps because of) our massive military advantage over the next seven or so countries in terms of spending, the last thing this new/old geopolitical game is about realwar: tanks, Apache helicopters, missiles, aircraft carriers, stealth destroyers, etc.
One of the markers of the shift towards multipolarity is virtualwar: cyber-warfare, information warfare, color revolutions, hacking, weaponized propaganda, non-linear warfare, hybrid-warfare, “little green men,” sanctions, espionage, troll armies, NGOs, and currency manipulation. There’s also the oh-so-cozy relationship between corporate media and government, the even closer relationship between corporations and government, and the challenges of managing what people believe in a post-fact world where “narrative” matters much much more than “facts,” and Alex Jones has a more devoted following than Anderson Cooper.
The US is top-dog by far in terms of both realwar and virtualwar. But because it’s less expensive, the virtualwar gap between Russia’s and our capabilities is smaller, and I suspect shrinking because it’s largely open source in nature. Indeed, whereas the the marginal cost of realwar rises over time, for virtuawar costs trend downwards towards zero. There are no bombs that a land army can use twice, but a virtual army can deploy a weapon like Stuxnet as many times as it can press “Send.” Thus, any nation with the balls to try can play the virtualwar game.
Complicating matters, it just so happens that the effects of these new and much more digital kinds of geopolitical gamesmanship are amplified by just how much the US has destabilized its own hegemony. Whatever goodwill, influence, and control America won because the Soviet Union collapsed began to erode with “broken promises” about NATO expansion made to Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin, ignoring the Rwandan genocide, the bombing of Belgrade, the dot-com boom and bust, Enron, The Patriot Act, The Iraq War, Abu Ghraib, the Financial Crisis, Occupy Wall Street, war in Libya, war in Syria, and riots on our own streets.
There aren’t many who are putting realwar and virtualwar into a larger narrative about how global relations and politics are changing. You’ll never see it on CNN. The New York Times reports admirably on certain cases, but never puts all the pieces together so that average citizens can keep up on one of the most important narratives of our time.
Consequently, prevailing, mostly one-dimensional beliefs that the world works much the same now as it did twenty years ago make it easier to ratchet up anti-Russian propaganda in the way that threats of “terrorist cells” and “yellow cake uranium” made it easier to rattle sabers at Iraq.
We had a golden moment to turn our defeat of The Evil Empire into something good and lasting for as long as other nations believed that American ideology and values were the best and shortest road to the good life. Instead, we squandered our unipolar moment and the opportunity to make the world better.
In the way that John Podesta is to blame for the breach of his email, there’s a real sense in which we are to blame for the world’s move towards multipolarity. They mirror each other. Podesta, like the rest of us, got suckered by hubris.
IMAGE SOURCE: Hacking, Hacker, Computer, Internet