There’s a lot of misinformation going around regarding the alleged hacking of the U.S. by the Russian government to help Donald Trump defeat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, and it’s sure to get more confusing now that President Obama has lashed out against Russia by expelling diplomats and imposing sanctions. The first thing to be established is that no evidence has been provided publicly that Russia, Vladimir Putin, or anyone tied to the Russian government have hacked the U.S. in any way. Instead, all of the claims that Russia hacked anything are coming from second-hand sources who claim to have seen whatever evidence may or may not exist, or from anonymous third-hand sources who claim to have been told by the CIA that there is evidence to believe that this occurred.
Furthermore, Julian Assange and WikiLeaks have publicly and repeatedly denied that Russia is their source.
Secondly, the claim going around the media that “Russia hacked the election” is an extremely confusing way to phrase what is actually being claimed. As Glenn Greenwald reports:
It is well-documented that much Fake News was disseminated this year to undermine Clinton, sometimes from Trump himself. For that reason, a poll jointly released on Tuesday by the Economist and YouGov found that 62% of Trump voters – and 25% of Clinton voters – believe that “millions of illegal votes were cast in the election,” an extremely dubious allegation made by Trump with no evidence.
But this poll also found that 50% of Clinton voters now believe an absurd and laughable conspiracy theory: that “Russia tampered with vote tallies to help Trump.” It’s hardly surprising they believe this: some of the most beloved Democratic pundits routinely use the phrase “Russia hacked the U.S. election” to imply not that they hacked emails but the election itself. And the result is that – just as is true of many Trump voters – many Clinton voters have been deceived into embracing a pleasing and self-affirming though completely baseless conspiracy theory about why their candidate lost.
So to be clear, it is not literally being claimed that Russia “hacked the election,” but many are purposefully phrasing it this way so that the American people believe that Russia actually changed the vote totals from the election to give Trump the presidency. What is actually being claimed is that Russia, or, at least, someone working on behalf of the Russian government, hacked the Democratic National Committee’s and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails, and then provided that information to WikiLeaks to be disseminated publicly to harm the image of Hillary Clinton and her campaign.
And, again, we have no evidence to prove that Russia had anything to do with the hacking of the DNC or John Podesta. All that we know for a fact is that John Podesta is apparently as bad as his boss at cyber security because he clicked a phishing link in his email account, and that’s how he was hacked. If the leadership of the Democratic Party actually believed that the hacks were a large part of why Hillary lost to Donald Trump then the people at the top of their hit list should be John Podesta and Hillary’s campaign staffers for their carelessness rather than Vladimir Putin for the most mild and easy-to-avoid hack of all time.
Now it’s entirely possible that Russia is responsible for the hacks of the DNC and Podesta’s emails, but why should anyone simply take the word of anonymous government officials? Donald Trump is correct to invoke the specter of the Iraq War, where the claims from government officials, anonymous and otherwise, were uncritically accepted and parroted by a large portion of the media and American public. That said, let’s assume for a second that Russia is responsible for the hacks. Every country on the planet, including the United States, is constantly trying to hack every other. Even Israel is not immune from American, and British, hacking, and documents leaked by Edward Snowden show that the U.S. intelligence community views Israel as one of the worst offenders in hacking the U.S.
So why would we be surprised if the Russian government sought to hack elements within the Democratic Party to release information that would be damaging to the candidate they’d least like to deal with in the White House? It’s alarming to some that Putin preferred Trump to Clinton, but why wouldn’t he? Trump said throughout the campaign that he was willing to talk to Putin, whereas Clinton was never anything short of hostile towards Putin. Furthermore, if we look back in history it’s pretty clear that Putin preferred Obama, who took a more diplomatic approach to Russia, to Mitt Romney, who called Russia the U.S.’s “number one geopolitical foe.”
So while we can plainly see that it’s possible that Russia is responsible for the hacking of the emails, and that they had every incentive to want to, we still have no evidence to prove that they actually did it. If the CIA and Obama administration want us to take their claims seriously they need to release actual evidence proving their claims. It doesn’t matter how many anonymous officials “leak” their assertions to the Washington Post, which has had to revise or retract many of their stories on Russian hacking. Until they release actual evidence of Russian hacking, the non-hysterical among us will continue to treat these claims for what they are: Propaganda.
As an aside, because I find it hilarious, it’s worth remembering how Democrats mocked Mitt Romney during the 2012 campaign for his comments on Russia. Now their neo-McCarthyism is putting anything Romney said at the time to shame.