“In Europe and America
There’s a growing feeling of hysteria.”
—Sting, “Russians” (1985)
Are the Russians guilty of trying to undermine American democracy? The answer may surprise you. But first the “news.”
As I write, Business Insider is neatly summarizing the current state of mainstream reportage and opinion: “Evidence is mounting that Russia took 4 clear paths to meddle in the US election.”
How one reacts to that prolix title, and the article that follows, will likely reflect one’s preference in the title bout for the undisputed presidency of the United States. In the Blue Corner, weighing in at 65,853,516 popular votes, we have “Of course the Russians did it, and Donald Trump is in cahoots with them.” And in the Red Corner (red!), weighing in at 62,984,825, is “There is not a shred of evidence that the Russians hacked us.” Let’s get ready to grumble!
Americans tend to gravitate toward one side or the other, and rarely switch sides. Depending on our political leanings, we look for evidence to support our point of view in the articles we scan on-screen, or on the news shows we watch. I am often guilty as charged.
Business Insider lists four categories of “mounting” evidence. First: The Russians established links with “Americans perceived as sympathetic to Moscow,” and “us[ed] them as a means to further Russia’s foreign-policy goals.” From the opening bell, BI is subtly repurposing the word meddling to mean “meddling in order to get Trump elected.” Whatever follows in terms of factual evidence that hacking can be traced to Russia will then suggest that anyone associated with the Trump campaign and/or members of his administration who had relationships with Russians was likely an agent of the Kremlin. BI cleverly deploys the word “[un]witting” here, covering all bases. (Did you retweet a story from Russian-state-owned RT, emphasis ours? You might be a Red-neck! Wait—I know people who have appeared on RT. Is “Aaron D. Wolf” my real name?) The fact that Attorney General Jeff Sessions did not tattoo his forehead with the dates of his few and unremarkable meetings over the course of 2016—when he was a U.S. senator—with the ambassador of The Russians becomes obvious proof that he is at best a Russian stooge.
Second is the “Russian hacking” of the DNC’s email and subsequent data-dump on WikiLeaks. The media and others who have cast this as a threat to democracy are counting on the American people being too stupid and politically blinkered to see the comedic forest for the trees. The Assange exposé was of actual primary-source materials revealing the thoughts and actions of the Democratic National Committee. So the edge of the weapon that The Russians wielded against Hillary Clinton was honed and sharpened by her own party. In other words, the great threat to American democracy is that American voters might have known what Democrats really think and what they are willing to do to gain power.
Third is an “automated bot” and “professional troll” attack by The Russians on the minds of American voters in the form of “a disinformation campaign waged predominantly on Facebook and Twitter” designed to “spread fake news and pro-Trump agitprop.” Business Insider does not tell us what qualifies as “pro-Trump agitprop.” But given the events of the last year, we may safely assume that any story or opinion—fake or true—that lends credence to the idea that Americans ought to oppose unlimited Third World and Islamic immigration, one-sided international trade deals, enforced political correctness, and hostile relations with Russia amounts to agitation and propaganda on behalf of Donald Trump in the minds of the left-liberal elites.
Fourth is the breach by The Russians of the “voting systems in as many as 39 states . . . ” We are told that no evidence suggests that The Russians altered the votes or vote counts of any of these states, but as per Business Insider and a host of others, “officials say [the information] could be used to target and manipulate voters in future elections.”
Despite the breathless media narrative, I have little doubt that The Russians attempted to influence the 2016 election. They may indeed have succeeded. Sift through all of the reported evidence involving Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear, signature similarities to known hacks of Ukraine’s electric grids, Sandworm and Crashoverride, Russian-language keyboarded virus code time-stamped with Russian business hours, etc. and so forth, and the picture becomes clearer.
And blurrier, if you view that picture through ideological lenses. The 3-D glasses handed out by our media Thought Police exaggerate certain things and obscure others, in this case making Vlad the Meddler appear as an omnipotent and omniscient creature of the night out to destroy everything decent and holy, a Slavic version of the Trump Monster. Or, if you invert the lenses but continue to wear them, Putin becomes a paragon of Orthodoxy doing battle with the forces of modernity and secularism, who supports Trump because he is simpatico.
What is out of focus in our image of the world is our own place within it. For the fact is, the Russians have taken their cues from us. We—our CIA and NSA—are the masters of hacking and meddling. Our intelligence community got the ball rolling well over a decade ago with Stuxnet, a computer virus first used to disable Iranian nuclear centrifuges. We employ an army of malicious code writers unaccountable to the American electorate and even to the federal bureaucracy. The right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing. These taxpayer-funded hackers are at it 24/7 creating and modifying worms and viruses that have Symantec and other virus-prevention software engineers working around the clock in multiple time zones just to keep up—and then fearing for their lives when their work proves successful. (“If I turn up dead and I committed suicide on Monday, I just want to tell you guys, I’m not suicidal,” said Liam O’Murchu, the Symantec analyst who discovered the origins and complexities of Stuxnet.) Since the spring of this year, WikiLeaks has released U.S. intelligence documents outlining a dozen sophisticated hacking programs, with such names as Weeping Angel, Dark Matter, and Archimedes, used by our government on God knows what and God knows where. The files are now dated—they are a couple of years old. Our whiz kids have already moved on.
The project that, when revealed by Assange in late June, caused tech geeks in basements across America to spit out their Doritos is the CIA’s “Brutal Kangaroo.” It is so denominated because it can hop from computer to computer in closed networks unconnected to the internet, by means of the unsuspecting insertion of an infected pen drive. “CIA malware codenames are freaking amazing,” enthused one tech writer. All of this is hidden from the American people in plain sight. Normal people don’t read tech blogs or know what an “air-gapped computer” is. Like Leon Podesta, Colin Powell, and Anthony Weiner, they open emails that warn of the need to change one’s password, click, and obey.
And all of this is something of a game to U.S. intelligence operatives, who mine Dr. Who, Dune, and their fertile imaginations for clever code names that mask what amounts, paradoxically, to open clandestine warfare against the world. They are the stereotypical frat boy on steroids, armed with the roofie of nearly untraceable code and the green light of intelligence officials willing to penetrate whatever can be deemed “our interests.” Our brazen hackers included among their interests CIA vending machines, which they hacked in order to make them dispense free Funyuns and Lifewater.
Jeff Sessions, in his Senate Intelligence Committee testimony in June, affirmed that there is evidence of Russian hacking in the United States, and that this is a threat he takes seriously: “We do not have a sufficient strategy dealing with technological and I.T. penetration of our system.” The fact that hackers are hacking should surprise no one. Of course we should prevent it from happening here. But what is galling is the subtext of the narrative spin given this reality by those intent on serving their own political interests. There is a righteous indignation burbling forth from every infopinion account of “Russian hacking,” a cry of victimhood that blushes with naive innocence. What is it about America that grants us leave to manipulate the world unchallenged? As is the case with foreign policy, the answer unites neoconservative hawks and left-liberals together in an ideology that will not allow us to leave the world alone: our superior “American values.” It’s not a lie if we tell it. It’s not wrong if we do it. It’s not hostile if you want to be our friend.
Unable to say conclusively that The Russians tampered with votes that were actually cast, and in light of President Trump’s foolish escalation of hostility with Russia by breaking his campaign promise to stay out of Syria, the media, Democrats, and NeverTrump Republicans are backing away from the assertion that Vlad the Meddler masterminded a Trump victory. Instead, as the Washington Post frets, citing their favorite source named “one official,” The Russians were (are) working “to undermine confidence in our democratic process”—engendering uncertainty. This makes them “brazen.” For anything that “undermines” our celebrity-driven, media-controlled “democratic process,” in which voters are said to be kept from the polls by a light rain, undermines the safety, security, and prosperity of the world, which, by divine oracle, deserves to be led (by the nose) by us.
Our cutesy little undeclared acts of war, known to a sufficient extent by all of the politicians who are demonizing a guilty Russia for political gain, undermine confidence in our sincerity, even among our toadies, and inspire reciprocal treatment from other state actors who question the value of a unipolar world when it undermines their interests.