Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Another hearing on Russian interference in US elections

There was another Senate hearing today on Russian interference in Western elections. I found the statements of the three witnesses notably unanimous in much of what they said in the first part of the hearing. Which isn't necessarily something that should inspire confidence.

Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Russian interference in European elections PBS Newshour 06/28/2017:

I take the news and what evidence we have about Russian interference in the US elections very seriously. It really does need to be investigated and clearly exposed.

I also worry that the Democrats' commitment to a New Cold War policy toward Russia may be having too heavy an influence on how they talk about the election-interference issue.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein in this hearing shows how those two factors can work to complement each other in articulating an anti-Russian foreign policy. "The iron bear [?] is on a march," she says, in reference to Russia. She does allow, "There is a downside to a cyberwar." She speaks as though she takes it for granted that Hillary Clinton's loss in the 2016 Presidential election was caused by Russian intervention. (Apparently, so does Marco Rubio!) She also claims that "every single one of America's intelligence services" agrees on the major aspects of Russian interference in the election and with "full confidence." Those famous "17 intelligence agencies." I do hope the

The PBS Newshour description of the segment:

Ambassador Nicholas Burns, Roy and Barbara Goodman Family Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Relations, Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Janis Sarts, Director, NATO Strategic Communication Center of Excellence, Ambassador Vesko Garcevic, Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Relations, Frederick Pardee School of Global Studies, Boston University and Constanze Stelzenmueller, Bosch Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution will testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday about Russian interference in European elections.

Nicholas Burns was Ambassador to Greece during the Clinton Administration, then US Ambassador to NATO and Under Secretary for Political Affairs during the Cheney-Bush Administration.

Constanze Stelzenmueller at one point she does expresses some general reservations about free governments directly regulating the content of the public space in the discussion of political ideas. And she talks about how the best protection against disinformation via RT or Sputnik comes from having a public that is able to distinguish effectively what is a more credible source and what is not. Sen. Angus King seconded that idea and saying that what Americans need to learn is "shrug it off."

Janis Sarts suggests during the questions that the central concern in US response to the evidence should be establishing "resilence." He defined that in a general way as cyberdefense, and being able to "operationalize the information battlespace," whatever the heck that may mean. He does make the point after 1:04:00 that "Russian documents" show that "they believe we are attacking them. I think they really believe that." But then he says one of our "most powerful weapon" is getting "the truth" to Russian citizens about their government's meddling in US elections. And we will do that without meddling in Russian politics and without using sneaky ways to get information to ordinary Russians ... how?

This is a frustrating problem with "cyberwar." If Americans are going to make a reasonably informed judgment on how to "hit back" against Russia, as DiFi demanded several times in the hearing, we need to be reasonably informed about the kinds of cyber-operations the US is running against Russia. And we don't have to think about that too much to see how murky that can get.

Vesko Garcevic wrote about Russian interference in Montenegro in Russia, an alleged coup and Montenegro’s bid for NATO membership The Conversation 03/21/2017. That intervention manifested itself in a coup attempt there, much more visible and obvious than suspect tweets of RT news items. But Garcevic writes, "Montenegro is one of only a few contests that Moscow has lately lost in its zero-sum style competition with the West. Despite efforts and money, Moscow has made no measurable progress in slowing the pro-Western direction of the country."

But DiFi and, seemingly, Rubio take it for granted that the 2016 effort in the US election was very effective. Which means, what? That American voters are notably less sophisticated and less able to evaluate news critically than Montenegrin voters?

What I take from this hearing is that countering Russian interference in US elections needs a couple of basic things. One is secure and auditable voting, like using paper ballots with counting by optical scan. The other is that people need to be able to distinguish legitimate reporting from the latest goofball urban legend you get in an email from a cranky friend. Or via Facebook, or whatever. The latter, of course, would interfere with the business models of FOX "News," Breitbart, along with Russ Limbaugh and his clones.

The exotic "cyberwar" aspects may be minor elements in defending the election process.

And the notion that political ideas shouldn't cross national borders is a non-starter. The most telling moment I noticed in the hearing was the discussion about how getting the Truth to the Russian public is our "most powerful weapon" in countering this in active way. No one seemed to show any inkling that they were talking about active US attempts to influence Russian politics, the mirror image of what the Senators were metaphorically rending their garments about in the hearing.

Their prepared statements are online: Nicholas
; Janis Sarts; Vesko Garcevic; Constanze Stelzenmueller.

No comments: