Sunday, December 18, 2016

Marcy Wheeler's good words for Obama's Friday press conference's treatment of the Russian hacking issue

Marcy Wheeler's reaction to Obama's press conference Friday dealing with the Russia hacking issue was similar to mine. But she focuses on the encouraging side of it in Obama's Response to Russia's Hack: An Emphasis on America's More Generalized Vulnerability Emptywheel 12/18/2016.

Here she describes the kind of emphasis people like me gave in our initial evaluations:

I think Democrats were disappointed because Obama declined to promise escalation. The press set Obama up, twice (first Josh Lederman and then Martha Raddatz), with questions inviting him to attack Putin directly. Similarly, a number of reporters asked questions that betrayed an expectation for a big showy response. ...

Again, I get why Democrats are furious about this passage: they wanted and still want the IC to attack Trump for benefitting [sic] from the Russian hack. Or at the very least, they want to legitimize their plan to delegitimize Trump by using his Russian ties with Obama endorsement. From a partisan view, I get that.
And she continues directly, "But I also very much agree with Obama’s larger point: if Russia’s simple hack decided the election, it’s as much a statement about how sick our democracy is, across the board, as it is a big win for Putin."

This is one time that leading Democrats needed to make sure they had Obama on board for a response obviously commensurate with the way they were describing the Russian hacking issue before they made it the central theme of their transition-period positioning against Trump. It comes off looking flat-footed, at best.

She argues that Obama's treatment of the issue in Friday's press conference is appropriate to the threat in the way the Administration has actually described it. And that's a sensible position. You might not know it though, if you weren't paying close attention to the wording of those statements and/or following people like Marcy who were giving them a close reading.

She quotes this portion from Obama's press conference:

What I was concerned about, in particular, was making sure that that wasn’t compounded by potential hacking that could hamper vote counting, affect the actual election process itself.

And so in early September, when I saw President Putin in China, I felt that the most effective way to ensure that that didn’t happen was to talk to him directly and tell him to cut it out, and there were going to be some serious consequences if he didn’t. And, in fact, we did not see further tampering of the election process.
And she notes, "This is consistent with the anonymous statement the White House released over Thanksgiving weekend, which the press seems unaware of. In it, the White House emphasized that it was aware of no malicious election-related tampering, while admitting they had no idea whether Russia had ever planned any in the first place."

That anonymous statement to which she links says this (U.S. Statement on Reliability of Election Results New York Times 11/26/2016):

The Kremlin probably expected that publicity surrounding the disclosures that followed the Russian Government-directed compromises of e-mails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations, would raise questions about the integrity of the election process that could have undermined the legitimacy of the President-elect. Nevertheless, we stand behind our election results, which accurately reflect the will of the American people.

The Federal government did not observe any increased level of malicious cyber activity aimed at disrupting our electoral process on election day. As we have noted before, we remained confident in the overall integrity of electoral infrastructure, a confidence that was borne out on election day. As a result, we believe our elections were free and fair from a cybersecurity perspective.

That said, since we do not know if the Russians had planned any malicious cyber activity for election day, we don’t know if they were deterred from further activity by the various warnings the U.S. government conveyed.
But, again, Marcy recognizes the partisan dilemma - or maybe I should say the "bipartisan" dilemma - on display on Friday:

[Progressive Democratic critics of Obama] recognized that his effort to be bipartisan squandered his opportunity, in 2009, to really set up a structure that would make us more resilient. It is, admittedly, infuriating that in his last presser Obama still endorses bipartisanship when the last 8 years (and events rolling out in North Carolina even as he was speaking) prove that the GOP will not play that game unless forced to.
Marcy is interviewed by Al Jazeera in this video, whose first nine minutes or so are devoted to the topic of the title, Secrets and hacks: Reporting Russia's role in the US election - The Listening Post (Full) Al Jazeera English 12/17/2016:


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