Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Russian hacking, Wednesday version

Here are some recent entries into the commentary and analysis of the Russian hacking and closely related issues.

Bob Kuttner writes in Trump, Putin, and the Pacifist Left The American Prospect 01/10/2017 about what he sees as well-established in the story and what deserves continuing skepticism. He also puts it into the context of US foreign policy toward Russia.

Philip Giraldi explains his own skepticism about the report in No Smoking Gun on Russia Hack American Conservative 01/11/2017.

Paul Pillar weighs in on the hacking and its implications in The Anti-Intelligence President-Elect The National Interest 07/06/2017:

Understanding when and how politicization can infect the work of intelligence agencies requires reflection about the mission and raison d’être of such agencies. For a wholly foreign intelligence organization such as the Central Intelligence Agency or the National Security Agency, objectivity is essential to the organization’s existence. If the handling of information were a matter of politically-driven case-building rather than objective analysis, then the task could be left to policy and speech-writing staffs, and we might as well dismiss all the intelligence analysts. Such an agency doesn’t even have another major mission to relate to, as, for example, the FBI does with its traditional role as a domestic law-enforcement organization. Politicization can set in when the policymakers—the bosses and customers of the intelligence officers—have a very strong policy objective driving a need for shaping information into a public case. The most salient example of that in recent times was the George W. Bush administration’s selling of the Iraq War. There is nothing remotely resembling that policy impulse that could be affecting the intelligence community’s current work on the Russian hacking.

Such politicization as is occurring on this issue is coming from Mr. Trump, and from others with a stake in downplaying the idea of Russian interference having affected the result of the U.S. election.
In a separate column, Russia Had Plenty to Work With: The Crisis in American Democracy The National Interest 07/06/2017, he observes why Russia might plausibly think the US is vulnerable to the kind of disinformation campaign the FBI, CIA and NSA has said they ran in 2016:

...this is a nation with a long history and strong tradition of representative democracy. But this tradition is visibly and seriously eroding. The trend is unfavorable. ...

Democracy scholar Thomas Carothers believes, somewhat more optimistically, that “as Trump and his team move to actual policymaking,” their support for democracy and human rights abroad “will prove less consistently negative than their initial signals might indicate.”

Carothers correctly identifies, however, the biggest negative of all: “Various problematic features of U.S. political life in recent years—the institutional gridlock, the ever-rising role of money in politics, and the frequent skirmishing over basic electoral rules and procedures—have already tarnished the United States’ image abroad. But the recent U.S. presidential election process damaged this image much more widely and deeply. Although this damage had many sources, numerous actions that Trump took during the campaign and since the election—from his vows to prosecute his main opponent to his baseless postelection assertions of massive electoral fraud—figure significantly in the dispiriting diminishment of America’s global political brand.” ...

Primary among the likely Russian motives, as suggested in the official government report on the Russian initiative, was “to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process”. Sure, what the Russians did is worthy of condemnation, but Americans ought to be most disturbed by the fact that there already were enough reasons to shake such faith that the Russians knew they had a vulnerable target. The recent election, with or without Russian interference, provided still more reasons.

Now we have Mother Jones introducting new questions in Al Vicensjan's The FBI Is Investigating Allegations That Russia Has Compromising Information on Trump 01/10/2017. Philip Giraldi also comments on that story inHow a Former CIA Officer Reads the Trump Dossier: Fact, fiction, or speculation? American Conservative 01/11/2017.

John Feffer, Donald Trump and the Russian Honeypot LobeLog Foreign Policy 01/11/2017:

I don’t think Russia directly tampered with the vote in November. Nor do I think that the revelations connected to the alleged Russian hacking made the difference in the election. Trump won for other reasons; Clinton lost for other reasons too. I’m not even sure that Putin wanted Trump elected. The Russian president probably just wanted to sow some confusion and discord in the U.S. political system.

Nor do I want to see a new Cold War develop between the United States and Russia. I’m not a fan of Vladimir Putin or current Russian policies in Ukraine or Syria. But Moscow and Washington can certainly identify common interests such as reducing nuclear weapons, preserving the landmark agreement with Iran, and negotiating some new agreement with North Korea.

But the honeypot that Russia has used to trap Trump will have much more serious ramifications than a few email accounts hacked or disinformation spread around the Internet.
As he explains in this case honeypot has a different meaning that what we get in spy novels, "But it’s not a conventional version of the scheme in which an attractive woman makes eyes at a lonely intelligence officer. Rather, the 'raven' in this case is Vladimir Putin. And the dupe is Donald Trump."

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