Friday, June 23, 2017

Russia, China, and cyber acts of war

I've been dumbfounded by the willingness/denialism of Republicans and of parties in other democracies to be the manipulated tools of the hostile Russian government. Apparently, rabid nationalism can be turned on and off as circumstances warrant.

OTOH, until recently I've been moderately less-exercised about what the Russians had actually done. Hostile countries steal secrets, so that level of espionage is standard activity. They also selectively release stolen secrets, leavened with lies, to weaken their opponents, so there's nothing out of line in that Russian behavior. What's out of line is that it actually contributed to their preferred candidate's success in the US, with little political blowback during the election (or afterwards).

Maybe this specific kind of election interference should be considered worse than it is normally considered as espionage, but the limited reprisal Obama has appeared to authorize seemed appropriate.

One thing that is different is the more recent news that Russian tried to do more than steal information and spread lies, but appear to have made a serious effort to hack the election systems. What I've read is that was more of a recon than an actual attempt to change the results, but it is different from everything else they did.

Everything else is normal espionage that requires a normal level of retaliation. Hacking an election to stop the elected candidate from getting office is overthrowing the American government, and it's an act of war. I think it's equivalent to an assassination attempt. Maybe it's not overtly violent, but unless you're a pacifist, there are things that are equivalent or worse than violence, and overthrowing democracy is one of them.

An act of war doesn't require a declaration of war in response, it just requires a proportionate response. Hacking the medical records of senior Russian officials and changing their medical prescriptions strikes me as a proportionate response.

I don't know if that needs to be done now (and won't anyway given that the Russian candidate now runs our country) but should be the guide for the future, and communicated to Russians for purposes of deterrence.

The one other factor that I haven't seen discussed is how Russian and Chinese behavior seem so different. China is our real, long-term rival. Putin's incompetence has used up half of the time Russia has to transform itself before oil becomes useless, and there's zero likelihood he'll now start a transition. China, on the other hand, is not engaged in these kinds of political attacks on the US, and that's interesting from a foreign policy perspective.

Seems like China is treating us a potential future enemy - its massive hacking of our systems are designed to crash those systems if it needs to in the future. Russia is treating us as a current enemy. Different tactics, requiring different responses from us.

14 comments:

Victor Venema said...

In a better world one would expect more outrage from the GOP and a clear plan to urgently make sure this never happens again, especially to make sure that future elections are held on paper, counted by multiple humans from various parties. So that there can be no reason to doubt that the election results are correct. That is an important pillar of democracy and the transfer of power.

"Everything else is normal espionage that requires a normal level of retaliation. Hacking an election to stop the elected candidate from getting office is overthrowing the American government, and it's an act of war. I think it's equivalent to an assassination attempt. Maybe it's not overtly violent, but unless you're a pacifist, there are things that are equivalent or worse than violence, and overthrowing democracy is one of them."

I agree that this is unacceptable, but overthrowing other (democratically elected) governments is a fairly routine activity for the US government/CIA. So I would suggest less martial language and to first reign in your own government.

Unknown said...

OTOH, until recently I've been moderately less-exercised about what the Russians had actually done.One thing that is different is the more recent news that Russian tried to do more than steal information and spread lies, but appear to have made a serious effort to hack the election systems.

And so?

Who gives damn? American exceptionalism in action?

I am sure El Salvador and Grenada really felt the US respect for the democratic process was admirable.

OnymousGuy said...

Unknown,

Both of those misadventures were due to Saint Ronald the Demented, aka The Great Prevaricator.

Susan Anderson said...

Brian, when I was looking hard at vote machine hacking in the late 90s and early oughts, I saw a lot of material (some of which may or may not be available in the wayback machine, but is no longer online) relating to Diebold that gave me a cauld grue. It seems all you needed was a password (and how many people back then bothered with secure ones, even if they wanted to) and you could go in the spreadsheet and alter voting results, and that was that, no backup, no evidence.

As far as I could tell, this was not fixed in the following few years before I stopped paying attention, but no doubt the least sophisticated manipulations became a little harder.

I do not think you can say there is hard evidence that votes were not changed any more than the reverse. Certainly those in regions where voting was made more difficult were turned away, and complaints were made. We know that the freedom to vote is less respected in some regions than in others, and local authorities can ignore court decisions as well if they hold the power. Consider Gore Bush where the FL Governor was Bush's brother and the Sec of State a campaigner, then it went all the way to the Supreme Court. We are too trusting.

I don't want to be a dear (or not so dear) little nut, but I have not, as I said, seen hard evidence that votes have not been consistently denied or stolen over the last few decades. Our international democracy rating has been downgraded too.

TW said...

This confused and confusing comment about Russian meddling in the election, in the end, tries to have it both ways, and that just doesn't work.

Either these acts by Russia require a response, or they don't. If they do, the response should have come from Obama. Characterizing his response as a "limited reprisal" is absurd; he basically did nothing.

But what looks correct to us in the general public, now that we know more about what was going on, was what Obama and the government knew, according to published reports, as far back as last August. It's mindless to talk about the deterrent value of actions Trump could take now, the key time for deterrence was before the last election, and Obama should have taken action. To say that Trump needs to act now, but it was okay for Obama to do nothing last August, is trying to have it both ways, and that just doesn't work.

Ken Fabian said...

It's a serious issue but I don't agree that "Hacking the medical records of senior Russian officials and changing their medical prescriptions" is at all appropriate - that is like attempting to use cyber warfare as a means to achieve actual assassinations. Has that been done before in any form? Doesn't that risk escalation rather than the de-escalation that is what is needed?

I'm not convinced that cyber reprisal is the way to go - there are few nations with clean hands in this and increasing reliance on dirty, covert "warfare" rather than bringing it into the light and into the realms of "lawfare" takes us further in the direction of escalation.

The most fundamental response should be improvement of cyber security defences and developing systems that are less vulnerable.

Susan Anderson said...

What goes missing here is the emerging information that Obama was more or less forced to get a bipartisan reaction, and being the ethical guy he was, he was stuck with the unethical Republican unified front which was only interested in winning, and didn't care that the assist came from dubious sources.

It's kind of like the climate arguments, which are all about "winning" an argument while the world around us burns up.

Brian Schmidt said...

Not sure why there should be some confusion about this, but I also equally oppose the US overthrowing other democracies.

Andrew said...

Obvious response would be a digital embargo; simply close down the physical links to Russia, or any other country involved in hacking. That would require a multi-country effort, though. It would not be watertight, obviously, but removing 99.99% of the bandwidth would cause plenty of domestic disruption.

Of course, had the US spent the last few decades consciously and overtly building up democratic institutions in other countries instead of trying to get 'the right guy' in office, it would be in a much better place now.

Russell Seitz / Bright Water said...

Alternative fact unchecker James Delingpole has a new metaeconomic approach to the issue

https://vvattsupwiththat.blogspot.com/2017/06/the-truth-that-sets-men-free-is-seldom.html

Tom said...

The hacking occurred a year ago. Obama was in office for half of that. He perhaps should have done more.

Trump has been in office for the other half of that year. He has spent most of that period pretending it didn't happen.

Susan Anderson said...

Ah so. An election was as near as makes no difference stolen, and the people who believed in democracy enough to let it happen are to blame, while the thieves do their best to increase their ability to con and steal. Honest people don't have a chance in this public conversation.*

Blame the victims much?

(Brian, quite right, our hands are far from clean. But two wrongs - or an unending cascade of wrongs - don't make a right.)

*By the way, all the progressives who are blaming their own party seem eager to let themselves be played by the opposition. We need alliances, not hate parties and lists of "bad" Democrats (though I'd make an exception for those crossing the aisle on coal: Manchin & Heitcamp; time is running out).

Fernando Leanme said...

This wikileaks release will give you a cow

https://youtu.be/jdP8TiKY8dE

Its an under cover video taken inside CNN, discusses their Russophobe coverage. I use it to rescue copper tops from the matrix.

snarkrates said...

Fernando, don't be more of a dumbass than usual. That video was from James O'Keefe, a proven liar.