Monday, December 12, 2016

Foreign influence in U.S. elections?

Reports that Russian hackers attempted to influence the U.S. presidential election through a series of stolen emails strategically released through Wikileaks are opening an unprecedented new era in U.S. politics. Never before has a foreign power been accused of meddling in U.S presidential elections.

President-elect Donald Trump dismisses the CIA and NSA report that individuals in the Russian government knew about or instigated the cyber attack on American democracy with the intention to help the Republican nominee. "Ridiculous," he says. But national intelligence professionals disagree. Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom Trump admires and praises, is attempting to reassert Soviet-era hegemony over all of eastern Europe and former Soviet states in Asia, the intelligence specialists say.

Bipartisan members of Congress are planning to investigate the allegations of election tampering by Russia, but it's difficult to know the intentions of the cyber criminals who hacked into Democratic and Republican party email systems. Even if the break-ins to computer systems can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, finding the motivation and intentions of the perpetrators is probably beyond the ability of congressional investigators. Who put together the tactics and approved the mission may remain a mystery forever.

No matter how diligently Congress digs into this mess, some people will doubt the conclusions, and the Great Electoral Con of 2016 may forever the the subject of conspiracy theorists and doubters.

It will be telling to see what the Trump Justice Department does with the information Congress exposes. Will the new Justice Department be willing to bring charges against international actors? Will the new president recognize the seriousness of any effort to undermine a presidential election? Or will he consider it just a little practical joke among friends?

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