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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Politico Article — “Obama Loyalists Plot Trump Resistance”

I try to never use my blogs just to copy, but this one is too helpful to ignore.  Talks about the re-energizing of the Obama Network, and priorities.

The talks are all early, but a few broad themes have emerged. One is protecting the people most targeted by Trump’s policies and rhetoric. How to block a deportation force, for example? Could Vice President Joe Biden leads an anti-domestic violence campaign? Then there are the Obama policies that are most at-risk: the health law, his climate regulation. Finally, with Democratic ranks decimated not only at the federal level, but in statehouses as well, there’s a significant new emphasis on supporting alumni who are considering running for office.

.  .  .

Other ideas are emerging, many still in the brainstorming stage. At one gathering on Tuesday night in a Washington living room, about a dozen current and former Obama appointees discussed creating an “action tank” – like a think tank, but more ground game than Ivy Tower – with the working title “Center for a New American Response.” According to notes from one attendee, they also kicked around the idea of an equivalent of the PeaceCorps or Teach for America to plant service-oriented progressives in the rural areas Trump won, and a toolkit to help a new generation run for local office without waiting for an open seat or working through crusty party committees.

Maybe that will be Trump’s legacy.

How do we connect to them?

I am beginning to feel better already.  You?