Brief Overview of the 2016 U.S. election process & Russian interference

In this post, I look at the alleged Russian hacking of the United States elections and the ethicality of such unauthorized intervention from the viewpoint of privacy concerns and social impact of such cyber attack.

Overview

The United States Intelligence Community (IC) comprised of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies (responsible for foreign and domestic intelligence), recently determined that Russia hindered with the 2016 election process in the United States. The interference encompassed “hacking into the email system of the DNC and releasing its emails to WikiLeaks” (Ohlin, J. D., 2017), with the goal to weaken the political faith and confidence in the U.S. democratic process. The IC statement was fully supported by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence; as well as by the Office of Homeland Security.

The unclassified report ‘Background to “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections”’ was released to public by the National Security Agency (NSA), FBI and CIA on January 2017 (Dni.gov., 2017). The report concludes that Vladimir Putin has likely ordered the hacking campaign with the goal of influencing the election.

The CIA Intel statement furthermore identifies the names of Russian bureaucrats who provided the stolen DNC emails and other materials to WikiLeaks. The action was to be directed by V. Putin by using third party services. CIA officials speaking in anonymity “determined that the Russian administration has intensified its efforts, mainly to discredit the American elections and support Donald Trump and his election campaign” (Reuters, 2017).

Public Reaction and Impact on Public Opinion

The citizens willing to listen to statements released by U.S. intelligence agencies are undoubtedly able to consider the security risks of such a cyber-hacking intervention and be aware of the various social impacts that such hostile actions can deliver. That said, regarding the social consequences, I was surprised by the actual lukewarm reaction of the American population.

Quinnipiac University Polling Institute concluded that only half of the poll respondents believed that Russia in any way influenced the election process. The rest of the poll respondents (36%) said that Russia did not interfere and the remainder was undecided.

So, on the one hand, we have IC representing U.S. intelligence agencies, as well as CIA, NSA, and FBI saying that Russian government interfered with the elections, and on the other hand, we see half of the U.S. population not trusting the uniquely unified opinion of the intelligence community.

I am not sure what is responsible for the division of public opinion. However, some intellectuals in my circle found to be poor taste, that the president-elect Mr. Donald Trump, at the time went as far as saying that Russia can hack and then release emails deleted from the personal server of his election opponent Senator Hillary Clinton.

Mr. Trump during an on-screen discussion said: “Russia: If you are listening, I hope you can find the 30,000 emails that are missing” (Sanger, A., 2016), and later repeating using revised words through his Twitter account (see Figure 1).

Figure 1 (Twitter.com, 2017)

 

Then we hear Mr. Trump saying that he has “tremendous respect for the work and service” done by those in the US intelligence community (GreatAgain, 2017), but later questioning the legitimacy of US intelligence claims. Alternatively, he also says that the Russian story was an excuse ran by the Democrats, such as shown in this tweet from 20th of March 2017 (Figure 2).

Figure 2 (Twitter.com #2, 2017)

 

 

The Conclusion

I selected this story because it shows that even though there is a robust evidence of the Russian hacking coming from two dozen of intelligence agencies responsible for the safety of U.S. citizens, the actual U.S. public opinion remains strangely divided.

One would think that an invasion of the election process by the foreign country would be very harshly judged by the citizens of the United States. However, it seems that the digital world we live in, can easily sway public opinion and blur the lines even on the issues of the utmost importance, such as security of the election process in this case.

Some hypothesize that the numerous tweets from Trump and his supporters influenced public opinion. I am not sure if this is correct, but nevertheless, it is highly probable that the work of intelligence agencies is often undermined by the digital media such as Twitter, who are used to their full benefit, especially when it comes to politics.

In my view, society needs to invest in systems capable of detecting fake news, as this is one of the biggest influencers of public opinion today.

 

 

References

Academic Sources

Ohlin, J. D. (2017). Did Russian Cyber-Interference in the 2016 Election Violate International Law?. [Accessed 22 Mar. 2017].

Gibbs, D. N. (2017). ” Most of the World is Just Collapsing in Laughter” on Claims that Russia Intervened in the US Election: An Interview with Noam Chomsky. Class, Race and Corporate Power, 4(2), 8. [Accessed 23 Mar. 2017].

Marten, K. (2017). Trump and Putin, Through a Glass Darkly. Asia Policy, 23(1), 36-42. [Accessed 23 Mar. 2017].

Other Sources

Reuters. (2017). U.S. intel report identifies Russians who gave emails to WikiLeaks -officials. [online] Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-russia-cyber-celebrate-idUSKBN14P2NI [Accessed 25 Mar. 2017].

Washington Post (2017). Full transcript: FBI Director James Comey testifies on Russian interference in 2016 election. [online] Washington Post. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2017/03/20/full-transcript-fbi-director-james-comey-testifies-on-russian-interference-in-2016-election/?utm_term=.bd3b8f292d7b [Accessed 24 Mar. 2017].

En.wikipedia.org. (2017). Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_interference_in_the_2016_United_States_elections [Accessed 24 Mar. 2017].

Sanger, A. (2016). Donald Trump Calls on Russia to Find Hillary Clinton’s Missing Emails. [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/28/us/politics/donald-trump-russia-clinton-emails.html?_r=1 [Accessed 25 Mar. 2017].

Twitter.com. (2017). Twitter. [online] Available at: https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/758335147183788032 [Accessed 25 Mar. 2017].

Twitter.#2 (2017). Donald J. Trump on Twitter. [online] Available at: https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/843776582825267201 [Accessed 25 Mar. 2017].

Dni.gov. (2017). [online] Available at: https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/ICA_2017_01.pdf [Accessed 25 Mar. 2017].

GreatAgain. (2017). Statement by President-Elect Donald J. Trump. [online] Available at: https://greatagain.gov/intel-meeting-3b6542ca6500#.omt498858 [Accessed 25 Mar. 2017].

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