Don’t blame it on the Russians

September 12, 2016

Ryan de Laureal reads between the lines of the media reports alleging that the Russian government has been hacking into the U.S. political system.

IF YOU were browsing the internet over Labor Day weekend, you may have come across the following article from the Washington Post: "US investigating potential covert Russian plan to disrupt November elections."

On the surface, it was pretty much what you would expect from the title: U.S. officials claim that Russian cyber-spies are engaged in a shadowy operations to affect the upcoming elections in order to undermine faith in democracy and harm American pre-eminence in world affairs.

But dig deeper, and you found a remarkable piece of Orwellian news-crafting--one that, in true intelligence community-style, makes the claim that there is a massive cyber-espionage scheme, while simultaneously denying the very assertion that such a thing actually exists.

What the story ends up inadvertently revealing is the extent to which U.S. officials fear the public response when their own corruption and backroom deal-making is thrown into the open for all to see. For that reason, it's worth taking a closer look at these so-called "Russian threats"--and examining just who's trying to undermine democracy.

Former DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz
Former DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz

WITH ALL the talk of a so-called "new Cold War" developing between the U.S. and Russia, reports of Russian meddling in American politics are beginning to echo the kind of paranoid rhetoric of the original Cold War era, when anti-communists like Sen. Joe McCarthy railed against agents of the Kremlin who were said to have infiltrated the highest levels of the U.S. political system.

Today, in our world of al-Qaeda and cyber-espionage, the scheming communist infiltrators have become fanatical jihadis--or faceless hackers directed by Russian and Chinese intelligence services to break into computer systems, sow discord and leak classified information to U.S. enemies and/or the press.

That these kinds of allegations would pop up in the Washington Post might not come as a surprise to anybody who has been following the news lately--specifically, in the wake of the thousands of Democratic National Committee (DNC) e-mails made public by WikiLeaks in July.

The leak was subsequently investigated by "independent experts," according to the Washington Post, and attributed to Russian government hackers who had infiltrated the computer accounts of high-level DNC officials--though the U.S. government has yet to assign blame officially.

The e-mails reveal that senior leaders within the Democratic Party colluded to undermine the campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders for the party's presidential nomination, and ensure that it went to the establishment favorite Hillary Clinton. This was evidence to back up the fears of many Sanders supporters. It forced the resignation of DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz--though she was subsequently awarded a ceremonial position within the Clinton campaign.

This is in addition to a number of factors that all worked in Clinton's favor, whether or not her campaign was directly responsible for them. For example, there was the army of pro-Clinton "superdelegates," the party insiders who enabled the former secretary of state to maintain a decisive lead in the delegate count even when she and Sanders were neck and neck in the popular vote. Then there was the allegations of misconduct at caucuses by the Clinton camp or the mysterious purging of over 100,000 registered voters from election databases in Brooklyn.

THE INVOLVEMENT of the Russian government in the DNC e-mail leak is debatable at best, but there is no substance at all in the allegations of Russian cyber-plotting to disrupt the November general election. As the Post article makes clear, though in its own misleading, backhanded way, there is no proof that the Russians are responsible for planning, well, anything.

The first sentence of the article states that "U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies are investigating what they see as a broad covert Russian operation in the United States to sow public distrust in the upcoming presidential election and in U.S. political institutions."

But a few paragraphs down the page, we come upon the following: "The official cautioned that the intelligence community is not saying it has 'definitive proof' of such tampering, or any Russian plans to do so." (emphasis added)

Thus, the story of Russian covert operations dissolves into thin air within a few short paragraphs, leaving a carefully worded apparatus, constructed of mirrors and plenty of smoke, with which the Post attempts to instill fear and uncertainty in the U.S. public about the potential, but as of yet totally unsubstantiated, for a massive foreign plot to wreak havoc in the upcoming elections.

Having gotten out of the way the admission that U.S. intelligence services don't have any proof that the Russians have either done anything or even planned to do anything, the article quotes the anonymous officials declaring with confidence that "the covert influence campaign here [is] 'ambitious'" and is "designed to counter U.S. leadership and influence in international affairs."

From there, the article goes on referring variously to "the Russian campaign," the "Russian operation," etc.--as if it had already been proven and can therefore be referenced as objective fact.

Let's be clear: the issue isn't whether or not Russian intelligence could be plotting such things. It would be safe to assume that the Russian government and other rival powers are actively trying to come up with ways to undermine U.S. standing in the world--or at least to counter the much more substantial, frequent, well-funded and lethal efforts undertaken by the U.S. government every day.

After all, that's what rival governments--especially rival imperial powers--do. But what the Post's article especially illuminates is the extent to which the DNC e-mail leak threatened the U.S. establishment just where it is most vulnerable to attack. To cite the article's same anonymous officials: "[E]ven the hint of something impacting the security of our election system would be of significant concern. It's the key to our democracy, that people have confidence in the election system." (emphasis added)

The official here hit on a truth, albeit unwittingly. The key to the success of U.S. political theater isn't necessarily that it is an actually functioning democracy, but that people are confident that it is.

Thus, given the undemocratic nature of the U.S. political system, the U.S. officials quoted by the Post don't appear to be alarmed at the extent of the DNC's backroom efforts to undermine Sanders, but at the possibility that foreign agents might have been the ones who revealed them.

Speaking about the DNC e-mail leak, Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California, who serves on the House Intelligence Committee, condemned it as "an unprecedented intrusion and an attempt to influence or disrupt our political process."

Even Republicans lined up to condemn the leak. Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska "urged Obama to publicly name Russia as responsible for the DNC hack and apparent meddling in the electoral process," stating that "free and legitimate elections are non-negotiable" and promising to "[turn] the screws on Putin and his cronies."

Clearly the Russians' actions--if the Russians are responsible for the DNC hack--struck a nerve. Perhaps now would be a good opportunity to ask ourselves: Just what do the DNC e-mails reveal?

They reveal clandestine efforts, not in the Kremlin, but within the Democratic Party establishment to sway the outcome of the presidential primary elections in order to ensure that Clinton secured the nomination. Needless to say, it wasn't Russian hackers who tried to influence the nomination process.

So it appears that the only thing U.S. politicians are concerned about is that the Russians' meddling might interfere with their own meddling.

In that case, we should ask a second question: Who is in a position to be more of a threat to democracy? Is it Russian hackers whose power is limited to accessing classified documents and possibly disrupting U.S. government computer systems? Or is it the U.S. officials who run the elections, who make up the rules of the game, and who use the means at their command to influence the outcome in ways that suit their interests?

Given that the people who tried to ensure the Democratic nomination went to Clinton represent the same class of people who wield substantive power over the U.S. political apparatus, the answer should be obvious.

By shifting the public's attention to foreign spies, the U.S. establishment wants to create the impression that the manipulators of U.S. elections are someone other than the politicians and bureaucrats who actually have been proven by the DNC e-mail leak to manipulate the outcome of the elections.

In the end, the DNC leak exposed to the U.S. public the corrupt scheming of their own politicians. If it was indeed the Russians who were behind it, it might make sense for the Washington Post that it change the title of their article to the following: "Russian hackers investigating potential covert U.S. plan to disrupt November elections."

All joking aside, the reality, which establishment officials seem unwilling to face, is not that U.S. democracy is under dire threat from outside villains, but that it is the everyday, business-as-usual corruption of the political system itself that has caused Americans to lose confidence that U.S. democracy is working for them.

The more that the behind-the-scenes workings of the system are exposed, the more angry the public will be, and the less faith they will have in their elected leaders, whether it's the Russians who reveal it or not. For the biggest threat to American democracy isn't lurking in some room in the Kremlin. It lurks in the offices of Washington, D.C.

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