The Deeply Disturbing Implications of the Washington Post Story of the Inadequate US Response to Russian Hacking, and a Long Term Proposal

It is almost impossible to force oneself to read the Washington Post’s brilliant reporting of the US failure to respond adequately to the Russian election-related hacking.

However, attention must be paid, and the implications go far further than judgements about the Obama administration, that I am sure will go well explored in classic blame the victim manner.

First,  I think we have to admit that the current situation of a largely unpunished and undeterred coup/attack on the US has to be broadly blamed on the entire political process in the US.  While the lack of response, either public or covert, is hard to defend either now, or then, it has to be seen as in part the product of the hyper-politicization of foreign policy.  The Obama administration was operating in a toxic environment in which any honest reporting or respect was, and would be thrown back in the face of the government and the electorate, without any concern for considerations other than short term victory.   The administration could not ignore the reality of that environment.

That must be recognized as a product of Trump active encouragement of hacking, of his trivialization of any reporting, and of his contempt for truth.  The enablers carry as much if not more of the blame.

Second, we must be honest about where we are.  We no longer can be confident that the American people control our own fates through the political process.  It was and has to be assumed to be about to be again, another Pearl Harbor.  (That the US has its own long bi-partisan history of interference in other counties electoral, and political processes, not to mention coups, does not make this any less serious, it only makes it harder to defeat.)  Given the massive reluctance of Trump to take this threat in any way seriously, or even to recognize the risks of the legitimacy this has already lost him, we can have no faith that the governmental system will protect us against more and worse future surrenders of control.  (If Trump is forced out, as I strongly believe he has to be, and will be, this last is no longer true, but issues of trust and legitimacy will long remain.)

Finally, we have to build a new layer of institutions that protect the integrity of our political system regardless of short term interest.  For a start, I can imagine a Commission led by prior presidents, with an independent staff, with direct access to the intelligent services.  The Commission would have a mandate to issue public reports, including on the credibility of challenges to our democratic electoral system, and to publicly and privately urge actions of all kinds, thereby making it easier for presidents to take needed actions without being effectively accused of putting partisan interests first.  While hacking will be one part of the charter of duties, all forms of foreign interference and collusion will need to be included.

The problem, as always, and as we learned in the cold war, is that is is almost impossible to give groups power that is not democratically constrained without then in fact surrendering democracy to those powers.  In the absence of the consensus of  the cold war years, the need is even greater than it was then, and the risks are far greater.

It is a measure of what Trump and his enablers have wrought, and what his opponents have failed to do, that we now face this choice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Globalization of Politcs May Be the Most Important Long Term Impact of Trumpism

For a long time a sacred (and therefore honored in the breach) principle of international relations was that of non-interference in other countries internal affairs.

Indeed, when NATO intervened in the Balkans, many, including progressives, were deeply worried about the violation of this principle, and the precedent it might set for the future.

Of course, these days, we understand that as a practical matter there are multiple ongoing ways of engaging with and interfering with other countries political system, yet no real coherent intellectual structure for describing, let alone regulating it.  What we do know that the last election has gotten us to the point where we realize the extent of the threat to democracy and democratic principles in the way this game in evolving.  In the package of such techniques are stealing data, publicizing true or false data, undermining confidence in communications, creating confusion, and falsifying communications in such a way that the parties do not even know it.

That countries are interfering in each others’ processes more and more is just a reflection of how deeply and continuously their interests intersect, and of how much more that is case that ever before.

Rather than just panic, I would urge that we should see the globalization of politics implicit in this interventionist paradigm as an opportunity both to advance democracy, and the integration of our world.

The core imbalance is between transparent engagement and non-transparent interventions.  Examples of transparent engagement are public information campaigns, people from other countries urging policy choices, explanations of the other countries points and view, needs, and alignment with the interests of the country sought to being influenced.  Remember that to suppress information about such things means that the overall process of global vision integration is held back.

Such transparent engagements actually provide more information for those who make the decisions about how to vote and how to lead.  Such transparent engagements only work if they are seen to be advocating for policies that are in the real interests of those with the actual voting and decision-making power.  Otherwise, they have the opposite effect of moving people in the opposite effect (as may already at least be happening with Putin’s US adventures.)

In contrast, non-transparent interventions, as we will continue to see in the US, undermine stability in “target” countries, at least in the short term, tend to destabilize the international system, and are likely to result in escalations of interference that may spill over into other realms of force.

Now, therefore, somehow non-transparent interventions have to be banned and actually so strongly de-incentivized that they they do not occur.  Interestingly, most countries probably have in place rules that prohibit all such interventions.  So the prohibitions need  to be generally narrowed to apply only to non-transparent interventions.

This would also require specifying the requirements and conditions of transparency.  Such conditions would include full disclosure of financing, means, scope, intent, and engagement with groups in the country targeted.  Moreover, systems of monitoring would be needed to ensure that non-transparent influencing attempts, and purportedly transparent ones that are in violation of the requirements,  would be identified and publicized.  Of course, the model for this exists (although far too weakly) in current rules governing in-country regulation of improper attempts at persuasion.  Finally enforcement mechanisms would include shaming, sanctions, and ongoing additional monitoring — in other words reflecting the monitoring and enforcement mechanisms for other violations of international norms, such as the development of nuclear capacity in violation of treaties.

Given that the most insecure countries are the most fearful of such non-transparent interference, they might be willing ultimately to accept an international regulatory structure.  Countries like the US would have to abandon frequently use non-transparent techniques (except those justifiable in self-defense terms) in order to persuade the more  insecure countries to accept such a structure.

Just not this year, I suspect.  If it happens, however, it will be because a consensus develops in the US and beyond that the risks of the current escalation are too great.  If so, we will be able to thank Putin and Trump, and this may be their greatest legacy.

 

 

 

 

Official Report on Russian Hacking Recommends Actions by Organizations

In order to understand what is happening in the world, everyone should look at the new DHS/FBI Report on the Russian hacking.  It is here.  This para introduces the chilling facts:

This Joint Analysis Report (JAR) is the result of analytic efforts between the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). This document provides technical details regarding the tools and infrastructure used by the Russian civilian and military intelligence Services (RIS) to compromise and exploit networks and endpoints associated with the U.S. election, as well as a range of U.S. Government, political, and private sector entities. The U.S. Government is referring to this malicious cyber activity by RIS as GRIZZLY STEPPE.

The document lists extensive steps that organizations should take to protect themselves and to check for attacks.  While most of us probably do not think of ourselves as part of this world, we all need to be vigilant, if only because of the stakes.  The more active, the more potentially at threat.

“Loose systems sink democracy.”

Legitimacy After the Electors and The Russians Have Spoken

I have previously written to make the point that a President legally elected without a popular vote majority has legal and constitutional legitimacy but not political or moral legitimacy.

That is still true, and hopefully helpful, but no longer a sufficient analysis.  Now I offer a number of additional propositions that would apply in a reasonably healthy republic.  (The word President should apply with equal force to  a “President-elect.”

A President whose formally legal election has been conclusively proved to have been procured by crime or external influence does not enjoy legitimacy of any kind beyond the formal title.

A President, about whose election serious questions have been raised by credible US government institutions as to whether crime or external influence produced the result, is one whose legitimacy is in serious doubt.

A president faced with such serious doubt about their legitimacy should regard it as their first task to resolve that uncertainty, regardless of risk to their continued power.

The duty in this situation of other political and legal actors, and indeed of citizens, is to take every step to resolve that uncertainty, regardless of consequences to their careers or institutional roles.

During the period of uncertainty during which the facts and outcome impact are being explored, the President and other political and legal actors should refrain from actions that assume the legitimacy of the President, other than those actions immediately necessary for the defense of the nation, and those actions that were not in any way at issue in the election as to which doubt exists.

If, after exhausting all efforts to discover the facts and the impact of those facts, doubt remains about what caused the result, the President and the political and legal system should should consider the President to have only qualified legitimacy, with the President’s duty to act on behalf of all Americans being even greater than usual, their responsibility to seek consensus and common ground overwhelming, and with any claims of authority for controversial actions illegitimate.

Finally, it must be emphasized that, if we are to take our Constitution seriously, these principles should apply even when President who had a majority of the electoral college also had a majority of the popular vote, they apply with even greater force when the formal winner did not win even a plurality of the popular vote.

I would urge people to talk with those of all political persuasions about these principles, not in order to delegitimize the apparent victor, but in order to create some consensus about the principles that should guide the nation’s actions.

I believe these principles to be unassailable (although I would welcome suggested improvements).  What would surely be more in dispute is what has to be done if and when a President and/or party fail to follow them.

For Obama Choosing a Russian Hacking Response Should Be Easy — Reveal and Undercut Russia’s Lack of Transparency

After mulling it over since the election, I now think I have the core principles and approach at least initially thought through.

The basic principle, as in any conflict, is to play to your strengths against your opponent’s weaknesses.  (That for each side the greatest strength and greatest weakness may be the same only underlines this generalization.)

In our case, our greatest strength is in fact our transparency.  It was our overall transparency that made the leaks more effective and interesting.  The problem was that we are not yet so transparent that they had no effect.

The Russians’ (or rather the Putin’s gang’s) greatest weakness is their lack of transparency, although they would probably regard it as their greatest strength.

So, the overall strategy is simple, to take steps to increase the long term transparency of the Russian system, while showing the extent and consequences of its lack of transparency.

The exact steps matter less than the approach — which is a huge advantage, because only those with deep knowledge of the details can make informed decisions about which tactics will threaten the least risk to our current intelligence gathering activities, while causing the most internal political disruption (most of which will occur inside the system, and not in public.)

Among the steps that might be particularly appropriate:

To Increase Long Term Transparency:

Building the kind of tools that Russians (and the people that work with them) can use to communicate internally without giving themselves away to the Russian security apparatus.

Doing the same for external communications.

Making access available to the record of Russian changes of “truth,” (the “memory hole trap”.)

To Demonstrate the Current Lack of Russian Transparency, and Its Impact

Revealing details of how the Russian media is controlled, particularly with respect to internal scandals and external influence.

Revealing details of how the Russian election system is controlled.

Showing how the hacks is connected to the Russian Government, therby showing that future such steps will be counterproductive in the end.

Of course, every such step has its risks.  Secure communications can be used by terrorists.  Somehow, however, as a nation interested in both transparency and security, I am confident that we will do a far better job than the Russians.  To take no action is to risk surrender.

How to Close Down Phone Spamming — Millions Could Answer and Talk and Talk and Talk and Talk

The phone spam seems to be getting much worse, particularly on mobiles.  For the first time, my default is to not answer all unrecognized calls.  Most of them seem to come from a small number of law violators.

So, here is crowd way to respond.

Instead of not answering, or hanging up, actually follow the steps and engage the person with vague discussion, thus wasting their time.  If enough do that, it will simply no longer be worth the commissions, and the industry will die.  Its all about incentives.  Such a campaign could be set up to be triggered only when a certain number had signed up to do it.

There is a risk, I suppose, that you will end up getting extra calls, either as revenge, or because their algorithm will tell the companies that it will be worth it to call.  J]If enough people just keep wasting their time, and the ploy fails.

Remember, it is critical not to give out any information, or to do anything on your phone or computer that is suggested by the perpetrator.

By the way, in my conversations, the one approach that seems to work is things like: “What do your parents think of you doing this job?”  “What does you God think?”  In one case the person on the phone simply said, “I have to eat.”

What would be best of all, however, would be if an app could be triggered on your phone so with an AI interface that would engage the caller in conversation, without any more intervention on the victim’s part.  The software could be updated based on how effective its own data shows it to be.

A great project for a hackathon.

Congress Should Pass a Concurrent Resolution urging Trump Not to Allow His Administration to Do Anything That Helps Putin Till the Election Hacking Issue is Resolved

Congress must pass a Concurrent Resolution that would urge Trump and his administration not to do anything of benefit to Putin or Russia until the election hacking questions are at least preliminarily resolved.

The rationale for this is simple and essentially unarguable:  Putin should derive no benefit from the actions now confirmed by the CIA.

The most obvious example of such a benefit would be Trump’s removal of Obama’s Crimea sanctions, (great news for a certain oil company) but there are plenty of other ways that Trump could reward Putin.

Interestingly, if Trump were serious about protecting the national interest, he would immediately agree to such a pause, because any other message makes our political system an open target for all, without any disincentive.

What a legacy that would be for President Trump?  How great would such an America be?

The more you think about this, the more terrifying it becomes, and the more we appear to be relying on the integrity of a tiny number of Republican Senators to stop such an outcome.