Diary

Is Putin Meddling in Democracy, or Inadvertently Helping It?

This is a somewhat controversial and “thinking outside the box” diary entry, but hear me through.

There is every indication from a variety of sources that Russia has embarked on a campaign of cyber warfare against democratic institutions in the West.  They have been accused of various acts and are probably behind a series of leaks regarding the political process in the United States and elsewhere.  Most of these actions are predicated upon Putin’s somewhat paranoid beliefs that the United States was meddling in elections in Russia and the Ukraine and that the US was behind the many-colored “springs” popping up among former Soviet states and in the Middle East.

There is ample evidence that Russian actors, likely with the blessing of the Russian government, have meddled in elections in Europe.  They may very well be behind the rise of the more extreme right wing, populist gains in Central European countries and Germany.  European Right Wing politics has very little in common with right wing beliefs here in the United States.  In Europe, it is less inclusive and more authoritarian.  Think neo-Nazi and you are on the right track in Europe.

Clearly, political gains by such political parties in Europe are to the advantage of Russia.  These are the parties that shun the West, that see the EU in a bad light, and that reject the protective umbrella of NATO.  All these things benefit Russia.

With the United States, a series of leaks has been interpreted by some national security experts as Russia attempting to discredit the democratic, political process in the United States.  Putin and Russia, to allay some fears, cannot affect vote counts since (1) the system is decentralized and (2) voting booths are not connected to the Internet.  Thus, your vote is safe at that level.

However, there are reports that Russian hackers have gotten into voter registration records in some states through such innocent, innocuous actions as opening a Word document in an e-mail.  This is identity theft on a grand scale and certainly troublesome for non-political reasons.

Despite the public words spoken by any world leader regarding elections in a foreign country, those governments obvious have preferences.  When state actors are behind leaks to persuade the voting public towards those preferences, then clearly they are meddling in the political process of those targeted countries.

But, one thing missing in the entire debate is the possible inadvertent public service such “leaks” perform for the political process.  Assuming Russia was behind the DNC leaks over the summer, leaders on both sides of the aisle condemned the action.  Of course, they could do little about it.  Had it been a domestic source, there is likely a violation of American laws.

Those leaks, however, in no way affected a national security concern (other than the fact a foreign entity easily hacked a supposedly secure system).  Revealing the internal arguments and apparent boosting of Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders actually shed a light on the political machinations of the DNC.  There was likely hacking of the RNC computers, or perhaps the RNC cyber security efforts were better.  There is also the possibility that Russia is simply sitting on RNC information and not releasing it for some reason.

Furthermore, these political leaks are nothing like the damage done to national security by people like Eric Snowden.  They do not reveal damaging intelligence information or reveal sources or methods in the area of intelligence gathering and operations.  No intelligence assets in any country are in any danger of being “outed.”

What is being “outed” is the apparent hypocrisy of some of our own political leaders who say one thing in public and act and say quite another thing behind closed doors or in confidential e-mails.  While Hillary Clinton was running around the country asserting that her campaign always expected a tough primary battle against the improbable Bernie Sanders, her campaign was coordinating with the DNC against him.  It cost Debbie Wasserman-Schultz her job and embarrassed the DNC.

Lost in the rhetoric over “meddling” by Russia was the hypocrisy rampant in politics.  Those leaks gave a vivid insight into how politics works behind closed doors.  The Democratic Party is great on transparency except when it comes to the Democratic Party.  And it is very likely that the Republican Party also operates the same way only that such actions have not been documented or revealed…yet.

In the political context, these hackers- whether foreign or domestic- who reveal the inner machinations of campaigns are simply performing the very same actions for which we give Pulitzer Prizes to investigative journalists.  Are their actions much different than those of Woodward and Bernstein, or Seymour Hersh, or Jack Anderson?

Vladimir Putin likely has his preferred candidate in this election just as Barack Obama or any president has their preferred candidate in any foreign election.  What we find so appalling is the fact that it is a foreign entity revealing these things likely obtained by illegal means and that they are so brazen in doing so.  Whether revealed through the illegal act of hacking, or through good old fashioned investigative journalism and “unnamed sources,” it in no way changes the hypocrisy being perpetrated by political campaigns.

Oddly, Putin may inadvertently being doing democracy a service by shedding light on how things really work and how supposedly neutral entities like the DNC really are not that neutral after all.  They may be behind revelations of rampant hypocrisy on both sides.  Ignoring the methods used to reveal that hypocrisy, is that such a bad thing in the end?