If you are not nervous about the impending Presidential election I envy and applaud you.
But for the rest of us (the Trembling Majority?), David Sanger of the Times presents a new concern that should easily crack anyone's Top 100 list of potential electoral disasters. As a disclaimer, I should add that when the White House wants an authoritative, sympathetic source to present their spin on international events they seek out Mr. Sanger. So this article is a lightly-edited press release rather than hard-hitting investigative journalism, but still - it is interesting to know what the Administration wants us to believe. Here we go, on cyberwar and the many complexities of a US response:
U.S. Wrestles With How to Fight Back Against Cyberattacks
ASPEN, Colo. — It has been an open secret throughout the Obama presidency that world powers have escalated their use of cyberpower. But the recent revelations of hacking into Democratic campaign computer systems in an apparent attempt to manipulate the 2016 election is forcing the White House to confront a new question: whether, and if so how, to retaliate.
So far, the administration has stopped short of publicly accusing the Russian government of President Vladimir V. Putin of engineering the theft of research and emails from the Democratic National Committee and hacking into other campaign computer systems. However, private investigators have identified the suspects, and American intelligence agencies have told the White House that they have “high confidence” that the Russian government was responsible.
Less certain is who is behind the selective leaks of the material, and whether they have a clear political objective. Suspecting such meddling is different from proving it with a certainty sufficient for any American president to order a response.
Because Obama is far too calm and reflective, don'cha know? I don't think game theorists recommend extreme predictability as a winning strategy, but I am not a genius like Obama either.
Oh, yeah, Obama is a visionary as well, as per this vignette from 2009:
While setting up his new administration, he was also learning the dark arts of cyberwar, descending into the Situation Room to oversee a complex American-Israeli offensive operation to disable Iran’s nuclear centrifuges. He expressed concern to his aides that the operation would help fuel the escalation of cyberattacks and counterattacks.
Right, because no one else anywhere realized that computer power was more widely available than nuclear power. Whatever. On to the new concern:
At the event in Aspen on Saturday afternoon, Lisa O. Monaco, Mr. Obama’s homeland security adviser, sidestepped specific discussion of the D.N.C. hacking but acknowledged that the administration might soon have to consider whether the United States’ electoral system constitutes “critical infrastructure,” like the power grid or the cellphone network.
“I think it’s a serious question,” she said, especially if there is “coercion, destruction, manipulation of data.” Ms. Monaco noted that whenever the United States thinks about retaliation, “the danger of escalation and misinterpretation is such that we have to be responsible about it.” But she also said that if an event were serious enough, “we have to be very clear we will respond.”
The cost of doing nothing could be high. As the United States and other nations move to more electronic voting systems, the opportunities for mischief rise. Imagine, for example, a vote as close as the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore, but with accusations about impossible-to-trace foreign manipulation of the ballots or the vote count, leaving Americans wondering about the validity of the outcome.
Oh, brother. Florida 2000 becomes Florida/Ohio/Pennsylvania 2016? With a 4-4 Supreme Court unable to swing the result to Hillary? And who among us honestly believes that Obama, Lynch and the establishment Republicans running the FBI could investigate an election-tampering scheme and conclude that Hillary was the beneficiary and Trump won the election? Well, never ask a rhetorical question - I am confident that Democrats and establishment Republicans would insist that their investigation was fair and balanced, but in a close election, the half of the voters that went for Trump won't buy it.
Of course, if Russian manipulation secretly swings the election to Hillary this will get as much attention from the DoJ as Lois Lerner of the IRS. And whoever wins, the hint of Russian meddling makes it possible that the losers will not accept the legitimacy of the "winner", leaving our next leader in charge of an even-more divided country.
Our leaders and institutions have lost their credibility and the Russians may be inclined to exploit that. Yike.
MADMAN ACROSS THE WATER: Let me just snip a fair-use excerpt form the Foreign Policy link above:
Why looking crazy can be an asset when you’re staring down the Russians.
Nixon wanted to impress upon the Soviets that the president of the United States was, in a word, mad: unstable, erratic in his decision-making, and capable of anything. The American commander-in-chief wanted the Kremlin to know that he was willing to escalate even localized conventional military conflicts to the nuclear level. Kissinger understood: "I’ll tell [the Soviets] tomorrow night," he vowed. The national security advisor even rehearsed for the president specific lines from the good cop/bad cop routine he intended to put on. "The more we do now," he would tell his Soviet interlocutor, "the better." He was akin to saying: On the shoulders of reasonable men, like you and me, rests the responsibility of preventing a madman, like Nixon, from taking things too far.
It wasn’t the first time the national security advisor had been exposed to the strategic potential of madness. The concept had originated, amid the nuclear anxieties of the 1950s, in the academic circles Kissinger had formerly inhabited. It was a product of game theory, a mathematic discipline — often applied to national security policymaking — that can be used to assess competitive situations and predict actors’ choices, based on prior actions by their competitors. Kissinger himself had endorsed the concept in his writings, as a professor of international relations at Harvard, a full decade before he came to the White House. "The more reckless we appear [the better]," he told Nixon that afternoon, "because after all, Mr. President, what we’re trying to convince them of is that we are ready to go all the way."
In his post-Watergate memoir The Ends of Power, former White House chief of staff H.R. Haldeman wrote that his boss’s use of the strategy was hardly unconscious. "I call it the Madman Theory," Haldeman recalled the president telling him. "I want the North Vietnamese to believe I’ve reached the point where I might do anything to stop the war. We’ll just slip the word to them that, ‘for God’s sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about communism. We can’t restrain him when he’s angry — and he has his hand on the nuclear button,’ and Ho Chi Minh himself will be in Paris in two days begging for peace."