First, the Post reveals that Russia is helping both Sanders and Trump this time around (conveniently just in time for the Nevada Caucuses). Then CNN tells us the threat is greatly exaggerated. Now we’re being told by Fox News that DoD says there’s actually no Russian activity at all, and it’s all a big hoax.
A reasonably intelligent person might well ask: “What the heck is going on here?”
So, here’s what we really know, without any political bias except what’s impossible to scrub out even with bleach:
Twelve days ago, the national intelligence services briefed the House intelligence committee about current and ongoing operations by Russian state intelligence to interfere with the 2020 presidential elections here in the United States. The briefing was classified, so of course the contents were immediately leaked — and in such a way as to have a political impact. Naturally, those responsible only did so on condition of anonymity. And, also naturally, the Feds denied everything, because what else can they do? It’s all classified.
A quick scan of the advisories out there for public consumption reveals that it’s business as usual. There’s phishing attempts going on constantly, and there’s the normal hacking-for-money going on, whether greenmail, blackmail, or some other color. Questioning campaigns directly tells me nothing at all; officially, they’re being tight-lipped (which tells me something right there). Unofficially, I’m being told of some curious informational compartmentalization going on in volunteer-intense campaigns. Bernie in particular is traveling with very heavy security even at small events.
But then yesterday a high-level F.B.I. spokesman gave a public statement at a D.C. conference on election security. (It hasn’t gotten much press yet, but you can expect to see headlines later today.) He explained what’s going on in some detail, indicating both that Russia is not the only power actively engaged in influencing our elections and that the goal isn’t to support any one candidate but instead to destabilize in general, something national intelligence briefings have been consistent on for five years now but that the general public seems to have difficulty grasping.
“The primary objective is not to create a particular version of the truth but rather to cloud the truth and erode our ability to find it, creating a sentiment that no narrative or news source can be trusted at all,” said David Porter, an assistant section chief with the F.B.I.’s Foreign Influence Task Force.
This is not to say that Russia and, say, China are using similar methods or have equivalent motivations. Porter went on to say that “…Russia wants to watch us tear ourselves apart, while it seems that China would rather manage our gradual economic decline over the course of generations…”
Further clarification was made by Shelby Pierson, head of the Election Executive and Leadership Board. She’s the top official in the shared intel apparatus in this country on the subject, and she answers to the Director of National Intelligence over at C.I.A. while, we’re told, maintaining ties with N.S.A. and a few lesser-known entities, and it was under her auspices that the House committee was briefed. Apparently, there was actually nothing new revealed at the House briefing; it was merely an update on general terms.
A month ago, Pierson gave an exclusive interview to N.P.R., where she openly discussed the currently active threats. It’s definitely not just Russia; they’re “also concerned about China, Iran, non-state actors, ‘hacktivists’. And, frankly… even Americans might be looking to undermine confidence in the elections.”
All of this falls perfectly in line with what was said by the nameless DoD official who spoke with CNN on Monday: Nobody overseas is trying to get either Sanders or Trump elected. “What should have come across would have been not that they’re trying to help him win to be in office… it means they’re trying to make it a lot more questionable.” They’re attacking the process and voter confidence.
And what they’re using isn’t hackers. It’s social media: meme factories and Twitter bot accounts and the like; it’s postings on 4chan that suggest people overload call center lines and otherwise disrupt the election infrastructure. It’s fake accounts on discussion boards and incited shitposting. The only thing they could be said to be hacking is… well, you.
The most ironic capstone to this might be the most recent culprit caught and kicked off Twitter: Michael Bloomberg, candidate for president. On Friday, the L.A. Times broke a story about his meme factories; since then, Twitter has been working overtime to kick his paid actors and bot accounts offline. Apparently, though, they’re having limited success; it’s an uphill battle during normal times, but Bloomberg is actually paying real money so his troll mercenaries are making a real effort.
It could more accurately be said that Bloomberg, not Russia, is trying to re-elect Trump. And that, my friends, is my unbiased opinion.
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Cartoon courtesy American creative icon Wm. Ffolkes-Deville. More can be found here.