The convoluted tale of Russian hacking

I have been sort-of following the story about possible Russian interference in the US election. I say ‘sort-of’ because it seems to me that the ratio of actual facts to elaborate hypothesizing is tiny. Each day seems to bring with it some new allegation based on anonymous sources that gets people worked up into a frenzy. As I see it, many possible scenarios are being merged into one big mess. Here are the various possibilities as I see them, going from the most serious to the least:

  1. Elements of the Russian government or groups allied with it hacked into voting machine and deliberately changed the vote count.
  2. Elements in the Russian government recruited members of the Trump campaign or Trump himself, using blackmail or who knows what, so that they became effectively Russian agents.
  3. Elements in the Russian government made some secret quid pro quo deal with the Trump campaign to release damaging information about the Hillary Clinton campaign in exchange for future concessions.
  4. Elements in the Russian government or groups associated with it hacked into the emails of the Clinton campaign and released them because they hate Clinton or just wanted to stir things up.
  5. Elements in the Russian government had talks with various members of the Trump campaign in order to gain information about his plans and while this was neither illegal nor unusual and indeed pretty normal information gathering by governments during elections of leaders, for some reason the people in the Trump campaign who talked to them lied about these fairly routine conversations and now are freaking out and trying to cover their tracks.

The phrase ‘hacking the election’ is being tossed around freely to describe any Russian involvement, although only the first item merits the label, while the fourth comes under the heading of ‘dirty tricks’. What is required to clear this fog is a careful, thorough, and transparent investigation to see which, if any, of those scenarios is the right one but this effort has been stymied by the absurd shenanigans of Devin Nunes, the chair of the Intelligence Committee of the House of Representatives, who seems to see his role as providing cover for the Trump campaign, and is astoundingly inept even at that.

Matt Taibbi states that reporters and Democratic partisans seem to be taking a hardline stance on this case just in case their worst charges turn out to be true.

But episodes like the Flynn story have even the most careful reporters paralyzed. What if, tomorrow, it all turns out to be true?

What if reality does turn out to be a massive connect-the-dots image of St. Basil’s Cathedral sitting atop the White House? (This was suddenly legitimate British conspiracist Louise Mensch’s construction in The New York Timesi last week.) What if all the Glenn Beck-style far-out charts with the circles and arrows somehow all make sense?

This is one of the tricks that keeps every good conspiracy theory going. Nobody wants to be the one claiming the emperor has no clothes the day His Highness walks out naked. And this Russia thing has spun out of control into just such an exercise of conspiratorial mass hysteria.

Even I think there should be a legitimate independent investigation – one that, given Trump’s history, might uncover all sorts of things. But almost irrespective of what ends up being uncovered on the Trump side, the public prosecution of this affair has taken on a malevolent life of its own.

He warns that the sudden adoption by Democrats of hardline anti-Russian stances, coupled with adoration of the CIA and vicious criticism of anyone who dares criticize the DNC and its standard bearer Hillary Clinton that have spilled over to include even those who supported Bernie Sanders, carries with it considerable risks for the party.

Moreover, even those who detest Trump with every fiber of their being must see the dangerous endgame implicit in this entire line of thinking. If the Democrats succeed in spreading the idea that straying from the DNC-approved candidate – in either the past or the future – is/was an act of “unwitting” cooperation with the evil Putin regime, then the entire idea of legitimate dissent is going to be in trouble.

Imagine it’s four years from now (if indeed that’s when we have our next election). A Democratic candidate stands before the stump, and announces that a consortium of intelligence experts has concluded that Putin is backing the hippie/anti-war/anti-corporate opposition candidate.

Or, even better: that same candidate reminds us “what happened last time” when people decided to vote their consciences during primary season. It will be argued, in seriousness, that true Americans will owe their votes to the non-Putin candidate. It would be a shock if some version of this didn’t become an effective political trope going forward.

There is much to be puzzled about Donald Trump’s deferential attitude towards Vladimir Putin. He keeps justifying it by saying that Putin has said nice things about him and so he does not see why he should not be nice to Putin in return. Or it may be that Trump genuinely admires Putin for the way the latter seems to be able to get his way by riding roughshod over any opposition. It may be as simple as the sense of camaraderie that one authoritarian feels towards another, similar to the way that Trump and Egypt’s president al-Sisi seem to get along well personally. There may be some financial interests that Trump has in Russia (and with Trump’s history some of those deals may well be of dubious legality and involve shady people) that Putin can use to expose and embarrass Trump if he gets annoyed with him and so Trump is trying to keep on his good side.

One can invent any number of scenarios with varying degrees of seriousness. But speculation without any basis just confuses the whole picture. That is why I am waiting for real evidence to emerge and not hurrying after the latest hot rumor.


  1. polishsalami says

    These people simply cannot handle the fact that Clinton botched the election.

  2. Reginald Selkirk says

    No one credible has even suggested option #1.
    As for option #2, both Manafort (former campaign manager credited with rescuing the campaign at one point) and Flynn seem to have accepted money for promoting Russian interests at one time or another.
    From what I have heard, #3 might be a realistic possibility, as far as the collusion to release hacked info. I don’t know if that would take the form of a quid quo pro deal or not, and whether that would be an essential part.

    It is ironic that Trump would have openly and repeatedly (but not accurately) cited the Wikileaks info on the campaign trail, while not releasing his own taxes and now complaining loudly about leaks.

  3. jrkrideau says

    I vote for No. 5. A lot of Trump’s band of merry grifters are probably somewhat worried about their dealings with Russian and the ‘stans oligarchs and crooked politicians whether their dealings were technically legal or not, under whatever legal codes may apply. Some, shall we say, business transactions may go through half-a-dozen countries so there could be a lot of subpoenas and arrest warrants out there.

    However No. 4 may have some appeal. It is pretty sure that the Russians, like most everyone else in the world, expected Clinton to win, so a little poking with a stick might have appealed to some Russians but I would doubt any official sanction as the fall-out if the actions were discovered would be too costly.

    No. 1, no way but I’d ask to see the the code that those machines use . There has been suggestions that the code is ‘dubious’ and that the machines on an individual basis are fairly easy to compromise — see the ACM Risk forum for many years.

    No. 2 Highly unlikely unless the Russian crystal balls predicted this election result years in advance and were able to predict who would be in his campaign team plus we assume that the team members were dumb enough to let themselves be set up for blackmail. Oh, wait, that last point …
    No. 3 Would you trust Trump and crew to stick to any agreement? I imagine the FSB could read old news and magazine articles about them. Some simple due dilegence would make the lot of them look like an oven full of hot potatoes.

    And I think you have forgotten No. 6:
    The Democrats, unable to believe their “perfect candidate” could have lost to the fourth member of The Three Stooges cast about for an explanation/someone to blame because they could not have done anything wrong

    They settled on the boogie man, Russia, that they have been yammering about for years and started throwong all sorts of wild accusations around

    A rather conspiracy--prone American public has fallen for it as they did for the McCarthy “Communist under your bed” scare and the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction propaganda.

  4. fentex says

    It amazes me that people seem to miss the point so broadly -- it’s in Democrats interests to keep this alive and constantly litigated / investigated for the same reason Benghazi was for the Republicans.

    It doesn’t matter if there’s a story there or not, it matters what may be found in incidental research AND that a miasma of corruption be maintained about Trump.

    Benghazi led to Hillary’s email server and so eventually to her losing the election, the Russia connection could very easily uncover any number of sordid dealings, wholly unrelated to the election, to fuel future attacks and could cost any number of people -- on the Republican side -- credibility.

    None of Mano’s possibilities matter, uncovering or proving any of them is not the point. But alas, for those on the side of reality and facts, it’s hard to just let animus and rage drive refusal and investigation as Republicans happily do when they get a bit between their teeth.

  5. mnb0 says

    I vote for none of them. It’s possible though -- and Dutch intelligence agency has confirmed it just today -- that Putin’s guys deliberately spread fake news to influence the elections. It’s an old KGB tradition; of course western agencies did the same. The whole thing is just old wine in new bags, as we Dutch say.

  6. Reginald Selkirk says

    fentex #4: It amazes me that people seem to miss the point so broadly – it’s in Democrats interests to keep this alive and constantly litigated / investigated for the same reason Benghazi was for the Republicans.
    It doesn’t matter if there’s a story there or not

    Of course it’s in the interest of the Democrats to keep this going.
    But it certainly does matter whether there is any substance or not. The revelations about Flynn and Manafort certainly do not resemble the vacuity which was Benghazi and the email kerfluffle.

    BTW, you do not get to proclaim that “it doesn’t matter if there’s a story or not” and then, in the same comment, claim to be “on the side of reality and facts“. Pick you story, stick with it.

  7. Pierce R. Butler says

    Reginald Selkirk @ # 2: No one credible has even suggested option #1.

    Every goddamn “news” report which uses the lazy/sensationalist phrasing of “hacked the election” does so, even if they follow it with a question mark.

    I leave the question of what that says about their credibility to the reader.

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