As the US expels 35 Russian Diplomats—and Russia responds—John Naughton reflects on the lessons of this interferenceby John Naughton / December 30, 2016 / Leave a comment
The CIA has concluded that Russia intervened in this year’s presidential election to help Donald Trump win. Speaking on Fox News the beneficiary of these alleged subterranean efforts retorted, “I think it’s ridiculous. I think it’s just another excuse. I don’t believe it.” And his transition team issued a dismissive statement. “These are the same people,” it stated, “that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.’”
Ponder this for a moment. American intelligence agencies have concluded with “high confidence” that Russia acted covertly in the latter stages of the presidential campaign to harm Hillary Clinton’s chances and promote Trump’s. They based that conclusion, in part, on finding that the Russians hacked the Republican National Committee’s computer systems as well as the Democratic National Committee’s network, but did not release whatever information they gleaned from the Republican networks.
That, of course, doesn’t prove that the Russian intervention was decisive in enabling Trump’s victory (though, in the end, the verdict of the Electoral College depended on 80,000 votes). But in a way it doesn’t matter. What matters is that a foreign adversary intervened covertly but adroitly in an American presidential election; that the outcome was the victory of a candidate who seems less belligerent towards Russia than his predecessor; and that the new president is contemptuously dismissive of the analysis of the intelligence services that he is soon to lead.
If you wanted confirmation of the astuteness of Russian exploitation of cyberspace, then this is surely it. In fact it’s the outcome of Putin’s updating of Russia’s capability for kinetic warfare with a doctrine which embeds “informational warfare” as an integral part of military strategy. “Russia’s practice of information warfare has … developed rapidly,” reports Chatham House. “This development has consisted of a series of adaptations following failed information campaigns by Russia, accompanied by successful adoption of the internet.”
What we are realising now is the extent to which the Putin regime really “gets” the Net—and especially its potential for radical disruption by undermining faith in online information. Just as mainstream US media underestimated…