A Hacked Democracy

The whirlwind around hacking and its impact on the recent election is a perfect storm to observe the dismal state of public discourse and media, the fractured political climate and the fundamental inability to think and reason clearly.

I recognize that the ability to think and reason clearly require a basic groundwork of facts or empirical evidence to proceed so even though we are in a “post-truth” world where facts and reason matter little, but let’s see where reason leads.

First, the facts and evidence clearly show that the DNC and the Clinton campaign were hacked — an outsider gained access to their computer networks and accounts and consequently released troves of emails. As the access was unauthorized and clearly the release was unauthorized by the parties involved, this is without question hacking.

Let’s be very clear with the scope of what we are talking about: the hack of the DNC and John Podesta specifically. We are not talking about Clinton’s private email server. Most importantly,  we are not talking about hacking voting machines or voting networks or individual voter registrations– there is no credible evidence or observed cases where these systems have been known to be hacked. The fact that voting machines were not hacked is typically used as a distraction to move away from a closer examination of the actual hack by the media and the right. Yes, they both contain questions of hacking but the nature of the hacking is wholly separate. So the fact that voting machines were not hacked has no relevance to the questions surrounding the DNC hack. To muddy the waters further, the issues of voter fraud get swept into the debate so by that point, the focus on the core issue — the DNC hack — is opaque at best, and hidden at worst.  Bottom line: the DNC was hacked.

Second, the impact of the release of the emails and the method of release of the emails — one drop per day over many days– strongly suggests that the intent of the hack was to disrupt the Clinton campaign and hence the presidential campaign. Again, it’s important to distinguish the identity of the hackers versus the content of the hack versus the distribution versus the impact of the hack.

In terms of distribution, the hacked emails were distributed by Wikileaks. The public record on this is indisputable. What is disputable is the source of the emails — the identity of the hackers. That said, it is clear from the timing and scheduling of the distribution of the emails — a daily drop of emails over 4 plus weeks timed with the final months of the election by WikiLeaks– were meant to negatively impact the Clinton campaign. Evidence and observation support this conclusion and this conclusion stands regardless of the hacker’s identity.

In terms of content, the hacked emails are provided as-is by WikiLeaks — there does not appear to be any evidence that the content of the emails themselves has been manipulated by WikiLeaks. This stands to reason as WikiLeaks credibility and raison d’etre require that they stay true to the content they distribute. However, it is quite clear that as the content was shared and distributed broadly on social networks that the content was altered to paint a more damning portrait of the the DNC, Podesta and Clinton. Still, it’s important to recognize the distinction between the original content and the original distributor versus content and distribution secondary and beyond.

Let’s move on to the the key question in this saga –who did it?

Remarkably, this is where reason and clarity appear to evaporate into the swamp– un-drained of course.

On the right, the very thought that Russia has been identified by a number of intelligence agencies as the culprit cannot even be considered for fear that it would undermine Trump’s election. That is why a more forceful response from the right is not forthcoming — it undermines Trump’s shift to Russia along with the Trump win along with the zero-sum game played by the right that anything that hurts the left must be good for the right.  Or, most troubling, that any assessment pointing to the Russians must be disputed apriori of considering the facts and analysis underlying that assessment. Their argument in short: we don’t know today with 100% confidence that it really is the Russians so therefore, we no longer need to consider the question at all.

For the left, a Russian hack would serve to undermine Trump and also provide easy cover as to why Clinton lost versus reasoning through the multiple factors that led to her defeat.

Frankly, both approaches neglect the big picture issue that republics and democracy rely upon fair elections as their lifeblood. So when a major political party is hacked before a presidential election, that should be a stark warning to the public that efforts to undermine the election process jeopardize the very thing that makes a republic work.

I would argue that this hack did indeed influence the election; I cannot say whether it ultimately would have changed the outcome however. But the hack transcends a single election — it goes to the very heart of informed public discourse and democracy. If a culture cannot deal with uncomfortable truths or even if care to get to the truth as we are in a ‘post-truth’ world, then what way forward is there to assessing and dealing with threats to the democracy? Basically there is no way forward if you abandon any process to get to truth.

And I’m afraid that’s where we are.

 

Because the ‘truths’ emerging in our ‘post-truth’ world don’t come from careful analysis or presentation of data and facts nor really any serious minded attempt to even pursue the truth.

Nope.

Truth can’t come from public institutions. Truth can’t come from the government. Truth can’t come from experts in the field such as cybersecurity or intelligence.

Truth must only come from a single man. And truth only comes from 140 or less characters via Twitter.

Enjoy your hacked democracy.

 

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