June 14, 2017

Enough with this Russian hacking hysteria

Enough with this Russian hacking hysteria

Hysteria about Russian hacking does not help to solve the root cause of the problem, says Evgeny Pudovkin.

Western democracy is a sham. That isn’t because, as late Ralph Miliband asserted, political parties have become puppets of business elites. And nor is it because of the ‘corrupt mainstream media’, despite what some on the political fringes might have you believe.  In fact, the main threat doesn’t even reside within Western countries themselves, but instead stems from without. Namely, the Russian President Vladimir Putin has hijacked Western elections, his corrupt tentacles wrapped tightly around the neck of the free world.

At least, that is the conclusion you might draw from various leading journalists and politicians these days. Tune in to Hillary Clinton – or read a few liberal publications – and it might seem there is no bounds to Putin’s almost pantomime nefariousness. He dominates over Donald Trump, the US president. And when not issuing instructions to the Donald, the Russian president is apparently seeking ever new elaborate ways to undermine the European Union.

On a more serious note, foreign meddling in Western elections is indeed unacceptable and worrying. And sure, steps have to be taken to make liberal governments less susceptible to threats emanating from cyberattacks. Whether current hysteria helps achieve this is unclear, though. Too much paranoia about Russian meddling – combined with this exogenous threat with domestic ‘populism’ – makes for the wrong approach to countering the perceived Russian threat. There are three main reasons why this is so.

First, mixing the issue of Russian meddling in the elections with other pressing issues for partisan purposes obscures public debate. This may have a damaging effect.

It has become customary to refer to anything that contradicts the status-quo as either ‘populist’ or something that Putin would have approved of. Yet, there are more reasons for public dissatisfaction other than Putin’s intrigues. A recent report by Chatham House clearly demonstrates the extent to which voters in Western Europe are dissatisfied with present scale and composition of immigration. The issue with high unemployment in southern Eurozone countries is hardly the Kremlin’s fault either. Mixing salient, if uncomfortable, problems with foreign meddling makes liberal democracies weaker, not stronger.

That is not to say one should express connivance when it comes to real collusions with foreign entities. If the US investigations into Russia’s influence do indeed yield evidence of cooperation between Trump’s team and Moscow, this must have tough consequences. But that is a different story from simply labeling every conservative ideologue as “Putin’s friend”.

Secondly, exaggerating the scale of the Russian threat is counterproductive. For the Kremlin, it may serve as a red flag, a proof that it is landing blows to the West exactly where it hurts. If Moscow’s meddling is designed to sow discord within democracies, it would be strange to grant it the prominence so easily. In reality, Russian attacks – assuming they took place at all – have entailed very limited ramifications.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign was shambolic enough even without Moscow’s assistance. Emmanuel Macron carried the victory without difficulties, despite the alleged attempts by the Kremlin to sabotage his candidature. As regards Russia Today and Sputnik, they may indeed rank favourably among hardcore leftists and reactionary right-wingers. They do not, however, carry much swing in the Western debate.

Rather, the West should take adequate measures to anticipate future threats. This requires two things: making government agencies more robust, while also adopting a stricter set of precautions when dealing with sensitive information.

Speaking of concrete measures, Western governments should consider concentrating responsibilities for protecting democratic institutions within one entity. That is one of the main recommendations presented in the report by the think tank ‘European Values’. Such an arrangement already exists in Sweden. There, the functions of protecting electoral mechanisms are entrusted to a special unit within the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency. Apart from that, security forces should hold more consultations with politicians on how to protect crucial data. For example, GCHQ, the UK intelligence agency, has started working more closely with MPs to make sure sensitive data is safe.

Finally, approaching the issue of hacking as something mind-bendingly unprecedented is the wrong attitude. To find long-term solutions to the problem, the West needs to adopt a more stoic perspective. “[Cyber-attacks have] come from several sources, including, for example, China”, noted Angela Stent, Director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian & East European Studies at Georgetown University. “Threats to security emanating from hackers are here to stay and we need to look at this strategically and find sustainable answers to that problem. Eventually we may require some sort of agreement regarding cyber activity between Russia and the US”.

The US, for instance, already has a cyber agreement in place with China that lays down ground rules concerning bilateral relations in this sphere. The pact is an important first step and makes further dialogue between Beijing and Washington easier. As Stent points out, Russia and the US had once opened talks on such an agreement in 2013, but those broke down soon after events in Crimea.

The dialogue concerning norms in cyberspace should be renewed and involve more participants, including the European states. One could justifiably argue that, given the current political climate, pursuing such a comprehensive agreement may be too ambitious. This being true, the effort should not be spared. At the very least Russia and the West can try drawing red lines to prevent the loss of life and infrastructure damage because of hacks. Another useful arrangement would be setting up a hotline for crisis management.

5.00 avg. rating (96% score) - 3 votes
Evgeny Pudovkin

Evgeny Pudovkin is a journalist. His main interests include British domestic and foreign policy, Russia and foreign affairs.

  • Oriental Imp

    Your views are distorted. Democracy sometimes throws up countries that oppose Russian Foreign policy. That is no reason to invade them. Something Russia has done twice. I don’t see American tanks massing on the Canadian border to unseat Trudeau, do you?

    But objective facts aren’t to be assessed. Rather, it is better to claim ‘everybody knows’, fact free, that conspiracy, immorality, greed all, of course, obtain on our side, not theirs.

    I used to think this unthinking, unblinking preference for our foes, genuine foes, was a kind of mild mental sickness.

    But it’s not. It’s a moral sickness.

    And very often found here, where the semi-delirious alt-right and the intellectual cowards of the far left come to greet one another and celebrate how much they have in common.

  • Oriental Imp

    And they are rightly castigated for it. You see? I’m able to hold a consistent position where it is possible to criticise the US and see Russia as an unstable, aggressive actor. The point of difference is that

  • rtj1211

    My view about reality is this: start by assuming that internal problems are the crux and only when that is demonstrably untrue do you move on to seeking foreign provocateurs.

    This has three advantages:
    1. You get your own house in order through rigorous self-examination.
    2. You do not come across as a paranoid hysteric in foreign relations.
    3. When you really need to challenge foreign miscreants you are likely to have tangible evidence backing your case up.

    Everyone knows that America wants to loot Russia. It tried in the early 1990s and the dipsomaniac Yeltsin was an incompetent if unwitting participant. Everyone knows Putin put a stop to it and huge numbers of Russians applaud him for that. Everyone also knows that it is the US, not Russia, that goes around bombing nations for imperialistic geostrategy. Organises coups to prevent democracy asserting itself.

    Democracy sometimes throws up governments which oppose US Foreign policy. That is no reason to overthrow them, especially if the US wishes to convince people that it believes in the ballot box….(which it does not, it being a stable oligarchy of banking families running puppets called POTUS)…..

  • NeilMc1

    Thank heavens the US doesn’t invade other countries. murder various leaders. stoke anti-foreign sentiment. Hack elections in other countries.

    That would be awful wouldn’t it?

  • LoveMeIamALiberal

    There isn’t any evidence of anyone hacking the DNC server. The most plausible explanation for the leak of John Podesta’s emails is that Seth Rich, an IT expert working for the DNC, copied the emails to a hard drive and handed them over to Wikileaks. As Mr Rich is now dead, shot in the street in unexplained circumstances, the truth will probably never come out.

    The only confirmed Russian intervention in US politics is the fake dossier linking Trump to prostitutes in a Moscow hotel; not sure quite how that fits into any existing conspiracy theory.

  • obbo12

    Terribly sorry you must be an American stupid enough to vote for Trump and believe Russian lies.

  • 00Le_Gin00

    WTF are you talking about…fucking retard

  • obbo12

    Total nonsense from the usual Russian post bots. At least try and get your facts right, colour printer steganography dates back to the 80s and was implemented because of the Japanese treasury concerns overed forged banknotes.

  • Oriental Imp

    Evgeny Pudovkin. Hmmm.

    Of black ops Russian influence, sure, he says easily, we should, you know, stop that sort of thing.

    Sure, Evgeny, we really should.

    When Russian security services dress up as football fans with the aim of severely beating real English ones to stoke anti-foreign sentiment, just before the Brexit vote, we should do something. Or murder a British citizen, in the most reckless and absurd manner imaginable, we should do something. Or when they try to destabilise our allies with dis-information and lies. Or release state secrets through Wikileaks. Or murder opposition leaders. Or invade other countries.

    It’s time we really did something.

  • TJB

    There are so many avenues to look at in relation to Hillary/Democrat Russia collusion and all round corruption exposed in the e-mail scandal I’m astonished that not one Republican congressman has demanded or indeed opened hearings.

    There’s the sale of a massive portion of US Uranium to Russia that was suspiciously adjacent to a massive donation to the Clinton Foundation, Podesta’s profiting from his Russia ties. There’s the collusion between the Clinton campaign & Obama White House and DNC operatives who were orchestrating violence at Trump rallies, organising bus loads of out of state voters to go into cities where voter registration and confirmation was so ineffective that they could turn up en-masse on the day and vote fraudulently.

    It’s almost as if the Republicans don’t want to win.

  • 00Le_Gin00

    From Wikileaks Vault 7 Release: CIA can customise the “fingerprints” hacks leave behind and make it look like someone else did it.

    The evidence that we’ve seen for Russia hacking is this exact “Russian fingerprint” that we now know the CIA had the ability to implement in their hacks to hide their tracks. That fingerprint is now completely shoddy evidence. Not just because the CIA can put a Russian fingerprint on any hack, but because anyone else can too, because the CIA was so Clinton-esque with their security that all the “fingerprints” they collected were leaked to hackers and rogue agents.

    So, essentially, any legitimate hacker nowadays could hack anything and then put Russia’s “fingerprint” on the hack. That fingerprint is evidence of absolutely nothing, thanks to these new leaks.

  • Why do the Americans keep chasing Trump / Russia collusion when there is no evidence. The real evidence is that the DNC email server was hacked and Hillary Clinton was running her own secret email server both of which are being allowed a free pass. The hypocrisy is mind blowing from the democrats yet the republicans are not the ones out on the streets rioting and calling for heads to roll. It is time the Trump team got more aggressive with this and started clearing out the whole rotten system.

  • obbo12

    Russian cyber attacks are not in isolation. Russia has invaded its neighbors, tried to stage a coup in Macedonia and Swedish emergency communication masts have been destroyed by military grade explosives. Russian hacking and use of social media disinformation is part of aggressive expansionist strategy by Putin and that must dealt with as a whole.

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