Vladimir Putin is a de facto authoritarian, head of Russia’s struggling democracy and economy, 12 years a president, 16 years a KGB agent, and author of both Crimea’s annexation and Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine. This does not make him all-powerful, or decider of anything in America. Whatever Russia’s motivations, the whole “Russia threw our election” by hacking narrative seems more and more like political gamesmanship.
For starters, the Obama team knows well that there was no hacking of any voting machines. They also know our adversaries incessantly probe – and voraciously hack – whatever they can. They know Russia, China, Iran and North Korea try all the time – and China managed to steal sensitive information on 18 million Americans from the Obama Administration’s Office of Personnel Management (OPM).
But frankly, this “Russia did it” story is wearing thin. So thin, that even the New York Times wrote this weekend: “What is missing from the public report is what many Americans most eagerly anticipated: Hard evidence to back up the [intelligence] agencies’ claims that the Russian government engineered the election attack,” adding: “That is a significant omission.”
Obama’s team knows other things. They know the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Clinton Campaign servers (not to mention former Secretary of State’s “home brew server”) were left wide open, vulnerable. They know the better-protected Republican National Committee (RNC) server was probed, but apparently not penetrated. They know the media want this narrative, since it explains their flat-footedness, undermines President-elect Trump, and offers a way to delegitimize America’s election of a conservative president – a decisive, humiliating defeat for the Obama team.
So, what should Americans note? Hard proof is still missing. The otherwise agitating New York Times admits this public report just combines old news with weak inferences: “The absence of any proof is especially surprising in light of promises … from the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), James R. Clapper Jr., that he would ‘push the envelope’ to try to make more information public.” Nada.
Moreover, the National Security Agency (NSA), the obvious “go-to” on any foreign intrusion of an American email server, states it has less confidence in the public report’s conclusions than does CIA. That is curious. It almost seems a negative proof. If NSA cannot be “highly confident,” what right do others have to evince such high confidence?
Who is driving this train, anyway? Apparently DNI’s James Clapper and CIA’s John Brennan. Why, and where is this train going? Let’s start with basics. Are foreign attempts regularly made on US servers and databases? Almost certainly, that is public record. Do foreign countries try to sow discontent in our political process? Of course, always have. Are they after information to compromise, embarrass, and gain negotiating leverage over American law makers? Of course, nothing new.
So, what is going on here, with release of this thin, political, accusatory report? Russia seems to be up to no good, as they seldom are. Okay, we can accept that. But why all the hype? Could this be a political jab by Obama loyalists? Have these two intelligence voices ever blurred facts in the past? Ever been overtly political, disingenuous with Congress and the American People? Interesting you should ask …
Director Clapper, when confronted in 2013, testified first that information was not being collected on millions of Americans, then reversed himself to say he had given the “least untruthful” answer. Congress was, for good reason, furious. Democrat Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), accused him of not giving a “straight answer.” Twenty-six US Senators filed a formal complaint against Clapper. Seven US Senators sought a Justice Department investigation of Clapper. Clapper contradicted his own contradiction, calling it a “mistake.” Obama kept him. Interesting, indeed.
When the Obama White House allowed China to breach OPM, Clapper reportedly quipped: “You have to kind of salute the Chinese for what they did." Beyond weak credibility, this political appointee offered an approving nod to an adversary for a devastating hack. That is good judgment? Hardly.
Meantime, Brennan – appointed to head CIA in 2013 – was President Obama’s deputy national security advisor. Former analyst, Brennan also has political allegiances. Ironically, the American Civil Liberties Union called for an investigation into whether “all of his conduct was within the law.” During his tenure, CIA hacked US Senate computers, triggering bipartisan outrage. Doesn’t that sound like the pot calling the kettle black? Now the out-going political appointee blames Russia for the defeated Administration’s election loss. Hmmm.
Epiphany: We know certain facts based on what was NOT said, as the New York Times points out. We know the Obama team has not released “hard evidence.” We know the DNI and CIA leadership are political appointees. We know they have a poor record for truth before Congress. We know they are close to President Obama, and part of his defeated administration. Despite having no certainty, they project high confidence – an assessment curiously not joined by the highly relevant NSA. All this is unfortunate. It appears – at the end of day – someone is pushing a foil, engaged in political sleight-of-hand, more inept gamesmanship.
Foreign adversaries commonly promote chaos, often hacking. China hacked sensitive data from OPM. North Korea from Sony. Russia is always probing, and wanted to stir trouble in this cycle. So what? The latest Obama-appointee narrative – this pin-the-election-on-Russia gambit – is just a step too far. It reeks of politics. The story is overblown, full of half-starts, embroidered with reservations, hedged by unsupported inferences. It is also – notice? –transparently self-serving.
Here is truth: Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and other adversaries are always trying to compromise America. That is their aim, against which we defend. Obama knows this. He also knows the election was not thrown by Russia. It was free, fair and dominated by outraged Americans – outraged, you might say, for the very reasons that they should be outraged by this latest political charade. Whatever Russia’s motivations, this is just another ploy – and we should stop fanning it. I do not often quote Vice President Biden, for fear that I am quoting someone else, but he got it right: “It is over.” Thank you, Vice President Biden.