Saturday, October 29, 2016

Trump, the Russians and Wikileaks

The final Presidential debate was ten days ago, which is an eternity in the news cycle.  Nonetheless, Hillary Clinton raised the subject of Trump, Russia and Wikileaks, so I thought I should eventually address it.  At stake here is the accusation that Russia is hacking into Democratic e-mails and passing it on to Wikileaks.  Wikileaks, in turn, is publishing material calculated to harm Hillary.  The assumption is that Russia and Wikileaks are colluding to get Trump elected because they like his pro-Putin policies.  Never state but often implied is that Trump is either colluding or with the Russians, or at least their useful idiot.

So, how much truth is there to any of this?  Well, let's break this down.

Evidence that Russia is behind the hacks: Strong.  This is the opinion, not only of US intelligence  (which can always be accused of being in the tank for Obama), but of private cyber security firms and professors.  Evidence appears to include malware associated with Russian intelligence, metadata in Cyrillic, and a hacker who claims to be Romanian but does not appear to speak Romanian.  I don't pretend to understand the technical details.  But I am prepared to defer to people who do.

Evidence that Russia is the source of documents to Wikileaks: Getting stronger.  The most obvious evidence was the Russia hacked it and Wikileaks published it.  Of course, that does not disprove any sort of intermediary, acting with or without Russian approval.  As I understand it, serious tech experts did find some evidence of Russian origins on the documents Wikileaks published.  But there was room for doubt when months, maybe even a year, of lag time existed between the hack and the leak.  But by now it has gotten to the point of Russia hacks it today and Wikileaks publishes tomorrow.  At that point the source becomes hard to dispute.

Evidence that Wikileaks is acting to undermine Hillary Clinton.  Absolute rock solid.  Julian Assange, founder and leader of Wikileaks, has come right out and said so.  And I understand why Assange would hate Clinton so much.  She was, after all, Secretary of State under Assange's avowed enemy, the Obama Administration.  It is perfectly reasonable for Assange to hate Obama and anyone associated with him.  Assange knows of the brutal treatment of Private Manning for leaking information to him.  He certainly feared the same for Edward Snowden and was aware that the US was making it impossible for Snowden to seek refuge in a neutral country.  And no doubt he believes, probably with good reason, that the US is behind the accusations of rape against him in Sweden that forced him to take place in the Ecuadoran embvEhenhouse from foxes, but that is a different matter.

Evidence that Wikileaks is in the tank for Russia: Circumstantial, but at least somewhat plausible.  It doesn't publish information critical of Russia.  It often aligns itself with Russian interests.  Assange played a major role in arranging Snowden's refuge in Russia.  He has a show on a Russian propaganda network.  And so forth.  The best answer is that we don't know and probably have no way of knowing.  But for whatever reason, their interests appear to align in this case.

Evidence that Russia is in the tank for Trump: Purely speculative.  Actually wanting Donald Trump for President is a chancy matter, even for Putin.  Sure, Trump has praised Putin, called for a generally pro-Russian foreign policy, and even questioned our commitment to NATO.  But is also ignorant, volatile, thin-skinned and easily provoked.  His affection for Putin might vanish any day if Putin did something that Trump took personally.  A more common speculation is that the Russians are not so much trying to get Trump elected as to undermine confidence in our government and make it look sleazy and corrupt.  So why aren't they picking on Trump, who is as sleazy and corrupt as anyone could ask for?  Maybe because Assange won't publish anti-Trump material because of his feud with the Obama Administration.  Who knows?

Evidence that Trump is in any way involved:  None whatever.  That is getting into tinfoil hat territory.

*This is not to dispute that the women's story is true, merely to say that the decision whether to prosecute and how much priority and publicity to give it can be highly politically motivated.

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