Russia, FBI and hacked elections

Two articles of inter from last week on the US election – one saying that the consensus view of the CIA was that “Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected”, and the other a detailed analysis of ’10 crucial decisions’ that affected the presidential election.

Washington Post: Secret CIA assessment says Russia was trying to help Trump win White House

The CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system, according to officials briefed on the matter.

Intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and others, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, according to U.S. officials. Those officials described the individuals as actors known to the intelligence community and part of a wider Russian operation to boost Trump and hurt Clinton’s chances.

“It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on an intelligence presentation made to U.S. senators. “That’s the consensus view.”

During the campaign Trump said a number of times that a rigged election was a serious concern, but he doesn’t seem to think this is a big deal – see Trump: Claim of Russia Meddling “Ridiculous,” Dems Making Excuses.

(With Kim Dotcom claiming that WikiLeaks may target next year’s New Zealand election this should be of some concern here).

Looking back through the presidential campaign Glenn Thrush at Politico: 10 Crucial Decisions That Reshaped AmericaNothing about the most dramatic campaign in memory was a foregone conclusion. The inside story of the pivotal choices that got us to President Trump.

It should be remembered that the election was eventually decided by I think about 50,000 votes in three states, so it was very close.

When deciding whether to contest the presidency Trump rated his chances at 10%.

This is a detailed analysis that’s worth reading if you are interested in what lead up to the result that shocked the world. The ten ‘crucial decisions’:

1. Hillary Clinton copies the Obama playbook. December 12, 2013.

But, in the end, Brooklyn simply failed to predict the tidal wave that swamped Clinton—a pro-Trump uprising in rural and exurban white America that wasn’t reflected in the polls—and his candidate failed to generate enough enthusiasm to compensate with big turnouts in Detroit, Milwaukee and the Philadelphia suburbs.

Either way, there was something missing that technocrats couldn’t fix: The candidate herself was deeply unappealing to the most fired-up, unpredictable and angry segment of the electorate—middle-income whites in the Middle West—and she couldn’t inspire Obama-like passion among her own supporters to compensate for the surge.

2016 wasn’t 2012 because Obama wasn’t the nominee.

2. Jeb Bush decides to run for president. December 16, 2014.

There wouldn’t have been a President Donald Trump without Jeb Bush. A rebel needs a crown to crush, and the wolfish insurgent found his perfect prey in this third Bush to attempt to claim the White House, a princeling of a family that by 2015 had come to represent everything angry GOP voters hated about their own party.

3. Donald Trump taps Corey Lewandowski as his campaign manager. January 7, 2015.

It was probably the single most important decision Trump made early in his campaign for the presidency and, true to form, the candidate made it without much consultation or due diligence, and without quite knowing what he was getting into.

“What do you think of my chances?” Trump asked Lewandowski as soon as he sat down in Trump’s office, according to a person familiar with the interaction.

“Five percent,” Lewandowski replied.

Trump countered with his own assessment: 10 percent.

“Let me propose a deal,” Trump then joked. “Let’s settle on 7½.”

4. Bernie Sanders doesn’t attack Clinton on her “damn” emails. October 13, 2015.

The second problem was more durable, utterly avoidable, entirely self-inflicted and ultimately damning: Clinton’s enemies were starting to weaponize the murky tale of her private email server, an issue that would do her permanent political damage, sap public trust and, eventually, hand Trump a winning issue. “It’s a cancer,” a longtime Clinton insider told meas her campaign was ramping up. “She’s her own worst enemy,” another said.

Lucky for Clinton that Sanders wasn’t her worst enemy. Sanders, an (uncommonly) principled politician who was as intent on running the campaign he wanted as in winning, attacked Clinton on the issues he felt were the most important. Under pressure, he would eventually bash Clinton on her refusal to release the text of her Wall Street speeches, her cozy relationship with fat cat donors, her late-in-the-day conversion to an opponent of trade deals. But that was only in later debates, and only after Clinton and her team had savaged Sanders on his gun control record.

Most of all, he flummoxed his own advisers by steadfastly refusing to attack Clinton on the issue that would hurt her most: the emails.

5. CNN shows Trump’s empty podium for 30 minutes. March 3, 2016.

This was symbolic of how obsessed media became with Trump coverage – in this case remarkable focussing on his absence rather than his presence.

But if Trump’s time was, literally, money for the networks, the cable-Trump marriage was also unprecedented in a way that threw the political coverage dangerously out of balance.

The absurdity of the situation was laid bare on March 3, 2016, when CNN, Fox and MSNBC prepared to air what was billed as Trump’s much-anticipated rebuttal to Mitt Romney’s claim that the GOP front-runner was a “phony” and a “fraud.” Trump was supposed to start talking at 1:30 p.m., but he was strategically, playfully late.

The live shot of a flag-backed podium in Maine sat empty for five, 10, 15, eventually 30 minutes of Donald-free empty space that illustrated the vacuity of the celebrity-driven frenzy that defined Trump’s early campaign. CNN officials dismissed the incident, arguing that the image was just that—a static picture—that provided a backdrop for a stream of talking-head banter, much of it critical of Trump.

For Trump, the point was clear: He was so much more important than any of his rivals that even his absence was more newsworthy than their presence, and the networks did nothing to dispel that view, airing his speeches in their entirety when no other candidate or even President Obama was afforded that privilege.

6. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio play patty-cake with Trump at the debates. August 6, 2015.

The only two candidates who ever really had a real chance to stop him—golden boy hawk Marco Rubio of Florida and Tea Party icon Ted Cruz of Texas—made the calculation that ignoring Trump, and letting him run amok in the early debates, was their best chance at self-preservation.

The decision by the two young senators—they are both just 45 years old today—may well go down as one of the most consequential wimp-outs in recent politics.

But it seemed to make perfect sense in the summer of 2015, when Rubio’s Capitol Hill-based circle and Cruz’s Houston-based operation simultaneously decided on a hands-off-Donald approach.

7. Trump insults the parents of a dead war hero. July 28, 2016.

The final night of the convention was supposed to be Clinton’s big night, and many of the reporters who crammed into the press section in the early evening of July 28 were busily pre-writing their big Hillary speech stories when Khizr Khan and his wife, Ghazala, walked onto the stage.

“Donald Trump: You’re asking Americans to trust you with their future. Let me ask you: Have you even read the United States Constitution?” said Khizr Khan, whose son, a Muslim-American Army captain, had died protecting his fellow soldiers from a suicide bombing in Iraq in 2004.

Khan spoke, in a quavering monotone, about the injustice of Trump’s proposed Muslim immigration ban. By the time he pulled out a tiny dog-eared copy of the Constitution from his suit jacket pocket, the audience was on its feet, and reporters on press row were plucking out their ear buds to hear what he was saying. “I will gladly lend you my copy,” Khan told Trump, as his wife silently stood next to him, fighting back tears.

It was a critical moment in the election, or so it seemed at the time—“an appeal from a regular person for Trump to show some human decency,” in the words of former Jeb Bush adviser Tim Miller, “which he never does.”

Privately, Trump fumed about the Khan speech—he hated to absorb any insult without responding—even as the people around him, including Manafort, encouraged him to let it go. But there was, as always, no controlling Trump.

This is a concern about Trump as president, especially internationally. Some think that Trump a ‘telling it like it is’ tough guy stance will allow the US to dominate countries like China, others dread what it could precipitate.

The public hated it. A Fox News poll taken in the first week of August signaled to GOP leaders (wrongly, as it turned out) that Trump was cooked and could never recover: He dropped from running neck-and-neck with Clinton to 10 points down over the course of two weeks. “I thought that was it,” said one former Trump aide.

“If he loses,” Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager, told me at the time, “his attack on Khans was the turning point.”

But here’s the thing: At that very moment, Mook’s own internal data was showing that Trump’s negative message overall—his “diagnosis of the problem” as Brooklyn called it—was resonating.

Clinton’s team laughed off Trump’s nomination speech. Yet her pollster John Anzalone and his team were stunned to find out that dial groups of swing state voters monitored during the speech “spiked” the darker the GOP nominee got.

8. Clinton decides to take a summer break. August 1, 2016.

Trump wasn’t dead. And the polls clearly showed that whatever he said or did, he still commanded between 36 and 43 percent of the national vote. The partisan divide was simply that stark, the animosity toward Clinton that real.

But it was a genuine boot-on-neck moment for Clinton’s Brooklyn operation.

Too bad it was the height of summer, and the Clintons had made plans they refused to change with their rich friends. So, the race almost, seemingly in the bag, Clinton came off the road, for a work-and-play semi-hiatus to regroup for the big fall push that saw her take four consecutive weekends off the trail, post-convention.

So at this moment of Trump’s maximum vulnerability, Clinton was work-vacationing with the likes of Jon Bon Jovi, Paul McCartney and Jimmy Buffett in the manses of Long Island, Beverly Hills, Martha’s Vineyard and Silicon Valley.

But Trump, surprisingly resilient and coachable when he needed to be, was to make masterful use of Clinton’s absence.

9. Trump goes scorched earth after Access Hollywood tape. October 7, 2016.

One month before Election Day, Donald Trump was hit by a bombshell that would have spelled instant electoral death for anybody without his chutzpah (or even a human-apportioned sense of shame).

On a Friday morning four weeks before the voting, the Washington Postobtained a hot-mic tape from a 2005 appearance on Access Hollywood in which Trump described in gross detail an incident in which he had sexually assaulted a woman who resisted his romantic entreaties.

The fallout was swift, damaging and seemingly campaign-killing.

The candidate’s daughter Ivanka, two people close to the family said, was mortified, and urged him to apologize immediately.

Trump’s natural instinct—stoked by Bannon’s attack-when-attacked attitude—was to give as little ground as possible.

One longtime adviser to Trump described the strategy this way: He couldn’t do anything about the tape—it was out there for everybody to hear—but he could stick with “his core brand” by reinforcing his refusal to play by the usual rules of politics.

Trump came out of it seen as he wanted to be: a defiant candidate who flouted rules of “political correctness” and whose in-your-face candor consistently registered in polls as the perceived attribute voters liked most about him. And anyways, it was a classic Trump move: When you’re caught doing something indefensible don’t even try to defend it—attack.

Trump, a guy who couldn’t seem to shut up, urged his surrogates to “go dark,” according to a former aide.

Trump’s numbers collapsed again, but Bannon never doubted that his pal could pull it out and urged Trump to indulge his most brazen showman’s impulses by turning damning on-tape proof that he was a sexual harasser into a populist crusade against the “rigged system.

10. Jim Comey sends a letter to Congress. October 28, 2016.

Clinton wanted to run her campaign her own way. To the frustration of her staff, that often entailed less retail campaigning: She insisted more often than not on flying back to her house in Chappaqua on most days, and held her debate prep sessions at a nearby conference center instead of doing them on-the-fly in battleground states, so she could combine cramming and campaigning.

That hesitation about “the campaigning part” was why, despite their confidence Clinton would pull out a win, many in her camp came to see the campaign as a high-stakes game of musical chairs: The candidate who had the worst final news cycle would probably lose.

It was Clinton.

On a sleepy Friday afternoon 10 days before the election, FBI Director James Comey sent a letter informing Congress that he had obtained a big new batch of emails pertaining to Clinton’s email server. It was a revelation widely (and inaccurately) cast as his decision to “reopen” the case, after having announced in early July that Clinton had been cleared of wrongdoing but had been reckless in setting up her private email server.

Top officials for both campaigns said the revelation—which turned out to be an inconsequential cache of previously parsed emails kept on the laptop of Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s estranged husband, Anthony Weiner—was a game-changer in a race in which Clinton had little margin for error.

A campaign that was notable for Trump doing everything not by the book which kept shocking many, and for Clinton’s flawed candidacy and flawed campaign, two of the biggest deciding factors turned out to be Russian and FBI involvement.

It’s nothing new that Russia and the US interfere in elections of other countries but the extent Russia has allegedly done this in the US to this degree is unprecedented.

The way hacked emails have been used should be a concern around the world.

It’s not new – hacked emails and other communications featured in Nicky Hager’s ‘Dirty Politics’ book launched early in New Zealand’s 2014 general election, as it turned out unsuccessfully. But I suspect that how that was done will have been noted and learned from.

WikiLeaks tried a different approach in the US election, drip feeding emails over a period of time. This certainly had an impact.

Ultimately FBI head James Comey’s interference probably swung the election in Trump’s favour at a crucial time, but that situation was set up and enabled by the hacking and the drip feeding.

Democracy is at real risk of being trashed by hacking.

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29 Comments

  1. Alan Wilkinson

     /  12th December 2016

    I don’t think hacking is a threat to democracy. A biased media is a much greater threat. If hacking reveals truth the public will cope with it. Coping with media lies and distortions is much harder.

    Reply
    • I think that it would be awful for our democracy in New Zealand if illegal hacking continued to be used in our politics.

      Selective use of emails, and unbalanced media coverage, can enable major damage to be done before the balanced truth emerges.

      The FBI example in the US (the media simply reported that, in the main) is a good example of how it can stuff decent democratic processes.

      Reply
    • Anonymous Coward

       /  12th December 2016

      Surely when the hackers are only going after one side they are even more biased than the media.
      Add to that that the hacking didn’t reveal the truth, it was used by basement dwellers on the right to create fanciful stories about pizza shops and sex rings, or trying to convince people that charging a fee for public speaking is somehow evil.
      “The Public”, by and large, don’t bother or have the inclination to rifle through stolen private communications. The media, until someone shot up a pizza shop, didn’t give any oxygen to these fabrications.

      Reply
    • Joe Bloggs

       /  12th December 2016

      Fortunately wiser heads prevail than Alan’s.

      The US Senate Committee on Armed Services has just released the following statement:

      For years, foreign adversaries have directed cyberattacks at America’s physical, economic, and military infrastructure, while stealing our intellectual property. Now our democratic institutions have been targeted. Recent reports of Russian interference in our election should alarm every American.

      Congress’s national security committees have worked diligently to address the complex challenge of cybersecurity, but recent events show that more must be done. While protecting classified material, we have an obligation to inform the public about recent cyberattacks that have cut to the heart of our free society. Democrats and Republicans must work together, and across the jurisdictional lines of the Congress, to examine these recent incidents thoroughly and devise comprehensive solutions to deter and defend against further cyberattacks.

      This cannot become a partisan issue. The stakes are too high for our country. We are committed to working in this bipartisan manner, and we will seek to unify our colleagues around the goal of investigating and stopping the grave threats that cyberattacks conducted by foreign governments pose to our national security.

      http://www.armed-services.senate.gov/press-releases/mccain-graham-schumer-reed-joint-statement-on-reports-that-russia-interfered-with-the-2016-election

      As McCain has said previously facts are stubborn things, and no amount of puffery or flim-flammery from Trump will change the CIA assessment that concluded with “high confidence” that Russia sought to influence the US election on behalf of Trump.

      It’s a sad sign of the times that the media takes without question whatever lies and distortions are fed to them by hackers and news fakers. But the sources of the lies and distortions can’t be so easily dismissed.

      “There is not just smoke here. There is a blazing 10-alarm fire, the sirens are wailing, the Russians provided the lighter fluid, and Trump is standing half-burnt and holding a match,” said Glenn Carle, a retired CIA officer and interrogator.

      “The facts hurt, Trump won’t like the truth, and he will without question seek to destroy those individuals or organizations that say or do anything that he thinks harm his precious grandiosity.”

      https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/dec/11/intelligence-agencies-cia-donald-trump-russia

      Reply
      • David

         /  12th December 2016

        You do realise that The Guardian has attempted to influence US elections for at least a decade don’t you?

        Reply
        • Joe Bloggs

           /  12th December 2016

          Along with every other media title in US and UK…

          However the US Senate Committee on Armed Services is a little less partisan, particularly in the press release that I have linked to above, in which Committee members from both the Dems and the Republicans show a concord.

          Reply
          • David

             /  12th December 2016

            How is it less partisan? McCain wasn’t exactly a cheerleader for Trump now was he? Most Republican establishment figures were just as against Trump as the Democrats, if not more so.

            Reply
        • Kitty Catkin

           /  12th December 2016

          The Guardian, UK ? Chance’d be a fine thing. Ever heard of the mouse that roared ?

          Reply
  2. Klik Bate

     /  12th December 2016

    My niece in the US retweets….

    “Bitter traitors and GOP establishment hacks John McCain and Lindsay Graham are pushing the hairbrained ‘Russian Hacking’ conspiracy to delegitimize Donald Trump’s presidency”

    http://truthfeed.com/fbi-disagrees-with-cias-bogus-russian-hacker-report/41009/

    Reply
  3. Corky

     /  12th December 2016

    How ironic the Trump team pulled out an old Liberal favourite to clobber the intelligence community-‘ these are the people who told us Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction’. In fact the intelligence community may have been right given Chemical Ali may not have gassed the Kurds.

    Reply
  4. Klik Bate

     /  12th December 2016

    And along with all this ‘Russian Hacking’ bs, one other distraction can be put to rest as well……

    Reply
  5. David

     /  12th December 2016

    “Democracy is at real risk of being trashed by hacking.”

    Garbage. It wasn’t the hacking that swung the election, it was the content of what was hacked. The reason Hagar’s effort failed was simply what he managed to hack wasn’t very important, and largely already common knowledge.

    The simple fact is that any hack of the GOP would have also most likely been favorable to Trump. It would have shown the establishment figures fighting to undermine him, reinforcing his narrative.

    Reply
    • Joe Bloggs

       /  12th December 2016

      Yeah. Nah…. The silence from Wikileaks and others since election day has been deafening…. Just sayin’…

      Reply

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