It’s time to put the saga of and Russian hacking and the 2016 presidential elections behind us.
Yes, Russia attempted to influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, but Russian cyber malevolence is not surprising. For years, legions of soldiers from across the globe (from China, North Korea and Iran and probably more) have woken up each morning with only one mission: to attack American computer systems and exfiltrate whatever data and information they can.
The only thing that is surprising is how long it took President Obama to notice. President Obama could have instituted similar sanctions against violative nations and ordered his intelligence leaders to engage in similar scrutiny of the purveyors of devastating cyber-attacks upon federal agencies in the past five years (see “Cyber attacks”) As you can see, there has been no shortage of attempts by various actors to infiltrate numerous government agencies and steal data.
Most importantly, U.S. intelligent reports have not found any evidence that the Russians somehow hijacked the presidential election from Hillary Clinton and propped up Donald Trump. Given that no one can “prove the negative” i.e. that Russian cyber-attacks did not have any impact upon the election, some Hillary die-hards and left wing political pundits will inevitably cling to Russian hacking culpability as a means to de-legitimize the Trump presidency and detract from his historical and unexpected victory. They should stop – their rhetoric is baseless and counter-productive. Moreover, they are enabling what the Russians have probably wanted all along – disruption, strife and confusion.
U.S. intelligence reports
Whether we should all blindly accept the conclusions of the U.S. intelligence reports of Russian hacking remains a separate issue and merits some deconstruction. The invisible redactions and glaring omissions of recent government intelligence reports pack a double whammy.
First off, the skeletonized intelligence reports released to the public intentionally exclude proof, offering a mere string of conclusions. Second, U.S. intelligence “assertions,” about cyber-attacks, like those in most intelligence briefings and reports, allude to having a range of other clandestine sources such as intercepted communications, foreign government agents and other covert origins. Unfortunately, we cannot evaluate the evidence presented by, nor assess the credibility of, these deliberately naked conclusions and cloaked sources.
The reasons for all of the secrecy make sense. Risking the compromise of critical intelligence sources is a matter of national security and warrants respect. We must therefore rely upon the honesty, integrity and expertise of U.S. intelligent officials -- a tough pill to swallow, especially for the more cynical or scientific.
In the end, perhaps a little blind faith is not too much to ask. These behind-the-scenes staffers have dedicated their lives to pursuing the truth. I should know, I spent almost 20 years in government service, most of the time investigating cyber-attacks. Not only are their opinions reliable, but their conclusions, albeit subjective and sometimes more akin to educated guesses, are of unique utility and value, and should be extolled rather than derided.
On the other hand, history is littered with too many examples of the misguided application of so-called government intelligence. In other words, second opinions and alternatives analysis of information should be sought. Of particular concern is when political appointees holding the higher ranks of government exploit the raw intelligence findings of career civil service underlings and recalibrate them for political gain.
My take (ironically) would be to adhere to the old Russian adage Doveryai, no proveryai, i.e. trust but verify. But we don’t have that luxury, and we all need closure. So let’s choose to move on.
Let’s accept and act upon what we have known for years; that Russia and so many other countries are hacking U.S. computer networks. Let’s reject what no one has proven — that Russian hacking, rather than Hillary Clinton’s failures, resulted in a Trump victory. And let’s not forget the foreign policy concern most Americans hold above all else – that terrorists, and not Vladimir Putin, are our biggest threat.