The Hacking of 2016 American Presidential Elections - By: Saeed Qureshi

imageUnlike other countries, the votes casting by the citizens to elect the American president don’t take place on one day. There is an option of the early voting that continues until the last day of voting which this years was November 8.

It is perplexing and rather incredible that till the midnight of November 8, the issue of election hacking had not surfaced as it did later and is still continuing. The main blame or onus of this hacking episode has fallen on Russia with focus on the Russian president Vladimir Putin who purportedly ordered for this hacking to pave way for the Republican candidate Donald Trump to win against the Democratic Nominee Madam Hillary Clinton.

The 2016 elections have been enormously influenced by the alleged Russian hacking resulting into stealing of thousands of pages of documents from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Washington and made available to the press and the public.

In his last press briefing before the end of his term, held on Friday November 16, President Obama categorically pointed at the Russia for hacking the Democratic votes and thus paving way for the victory of the Republican candidate Donlad Trump.

He stated that in the backdrop of reports circulating prior to the planned hacking of the 2016 presidential elections, he warned and asked the Russian president Mr. Vladimir Putin to “cut it out”. at a Group of 20 summit meeting in Hangzhou China held in September this year.

He conveyed to him a strong American response in case there was continued effort to influence the elections or manipulate the votes. He said that he was weighing a mix of public and covert actions against the Russians during the period of his last 34 days in office, elaborating those actions as “very costly for them”.

However, in his press conference, he stopped short of revealing those stringent measures that his administration aims at carrying out against Russian in retaliation. All that he specified was that “Some of it we will do in a way that they will know, but not everybody will,” However he wants to do so without setting off an escalating cyber conflict.

The president said that “We did not see further tampering of the election process. But the leaks of D.N.C. emails, and those of John D. Podesta, the Clinton campaign manager, continued, because they were already in the hands of WikiLeaks, which doled them out to an eager news media until the last days of the campaign.”

He outlined that, “Our goal continues to be to send a clear message to Russia or others not to do this to us because we can do the stuff to you”. “But it is also important to us to do that in a thoughtful, methodical way. Some of it, we will do publicly. Some of it we will do in a way that they know, but not everybody will.”

Prior to Mr. Obama’s farewell address to the press, Hillary Clinton in her address, on 15 December, to a group of donors in Manhattan stated that “the hacking attacks carried out by Russia against her election campaign and the Democratic National Committee were intended to sabotage the American Democratic system. She claimed that this hacking was ordered by Vladimir V. Putin.

Castigating Russian president for personal rancor against her she accused him of having a personal beef against her. “He had never forgiven me for the accusation she made in 2011, when she was secretary of state, that parliamentary elections in his country held that year were rigged.” She exclaimed.

There are is a litany of retaliatory proposals one of which is to cut off leaders in Mr. Putin’s inner circle from their hidden bank accounts in Europe and Asia. An option is already there to use sanctions under a year-old executive order to ban international travel for senior officials in the G.R.U. (Russia’s main Intelligence Agency)

Mr. Brennan the CIA Director said that he had met with FBI Director James B. Comey, as well as the Director of National Intelligence, James R. Clapper, and “there is strong consensus among us on the scope, nature and intent of Russian interference in our presidential election.”

Mr. McFaul, the former ambassador to Russia, called upon president Obama that he should focus on “declassification of intelligence to lay bare the Russian hacking,” during the remaining period of his presidency.

Following Mr. Obama’s comments, the Democrats have demanded further action from president Obama. Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the leading Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee called for “additional economic sanctions along with our allies, and clandestine means of exacting a cost on the Russians for their flagrant meddling in our election.”

He said that “I have little confidence,” that the incoming president Donald Trump will take the actions necessary to make the Russians pay any price for the most consequential ‘active measures’ campaign against us in history.”

According to NYT’s report “The Central Intelligence Agency(CIA) is of the view that the Russian government deployed computer hackers to help elect Donald J. Trump.” However, Trump has rejected the findings of the intelligence agencies calling it as “ridiculous,” He insisted that the hacker may be American, or Chinese, but that “they have no idea.”

It appears that the cold war that was abandoned some decades from Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev onwards is going to be revived that might divide the globe into two rival blocs. Even if that doesn’t happen because of the newly elected American president Donald Trump’s soft corner for Russia, the friction on other levels such as between the intelligence agencies and cyber war may erupt.

The writer is a senior journalist, former editor of Diplomatic Times and a former diplomat. This and other articles by the writer can also be read at his blog www.uprightopinion.com

Posted on Dec 20, 16 | 9:05 am