The consensus of U.S. intelligence services that the Russian government engaged in acts of hacking during this year’s presidential election with the aim of supporting eventual winner and President-elect Donald Trump should be sobering to Americans of all political stripes. Leadership in Congress has been right to call for a full investigation of the matter. Although the nature of online activity that Russian agents are believed to have perpetrated doesn’t rise to the level of casting a shadow on the legitimacy of the election, questions must be answered about how a foreign power was able to play such a dramatic role in the framing of presidential politics. We must determine to what extent hackers of all foreign powers are able to compromise our online security, and we must harden cyber defenses to lessen the potential for future incidents, as well as limit their effectiveness if one does succeed.
It is a sign of the intense politicization of American government that the reaction to the Russian hacking hasn’t been more uniform among the general population. Attempted interference in a U.S. presidential election by a foreign power should be abhorrent to Americans, regardless of the level of success or intended target of the attacks. One of the founding principles of our nation is that of self-determination. To have a foreign power attempt to influence that determination is corrosive to our system of government. If left unchecked, over time, it can erode democratic institutions, and its extreme potential for economic damage has already been demonstrated in the business sector.
To be sure, no evidence has been made public that Russia or its agents interfered directly with the voting process. But there is a remarkable consensus among the U.S. intelligence agencies that the Russian government was engaging in hacking incidents during the presidential campaign. “The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of emails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations,” a joint memo from 17 U.S. intelligence services released on Oct. 7 read. That memo went on to say, “These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the U.S. election process. Such activity is not new to Moscow — the Russians have used similar tactics and techniques across Europe and Eurasia, for example, to influence public opinion there. We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.”
This is no idle observation. Such uniformity and certainty is rare in the intelligence community. When all 17 of the U.S. intelligence services agree on a foreign power’s actions and intent, we ought to pay attention. Instead, the issue has become a political football, with Mr. Trump’s supporters minimizing or outright denying the hacking and his critics seeking to use the issue as a wedge to undermine the legitimacy of the election. Both reactions are shameful and harmful to our country’s governance. The degree of outrage you express about such issues shouldn’t be determined by their effects on your preferred political party. It has been bizarre to watch those supporting Mr. Trump resorting to extreme moral relativism and claims that the ends somehow justify the means of foreign involvement. It has been dismaying to see Democratic Party operatives such as Clinton campaign chair John Podesta attempt to spin the hacking incidents into an indictment of Mr. Trump. Though Mr. Trump and his campaign benefited from the cyberattacks, there’s no evidence they had any hand in them.
Surprisingly, it has been Congress that has taken the sanest tack on the hacking incidents so far. Senate committees will investigate the nature and extent of the attacks, and both of Alaska’s senators have stated their support for such action. Determining the nature and extent of the attacks will be crucial to determining what their effects were, what an appropriate response should be and how best to prevent such actions in the future. Cyberwarfare has become an area of crucial vulnerability for all nations, including America. Putting resources into better online defenses — and pushing back against such attacks by foreign powers — will be ever more crucial as technology advances and our reliance on it becomes even greater.
— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,