“NBC Exclusive: White House Readies to Fight Election Day Cyber Mayhem”
This is an astonishing and deeply troubling headline to appear just five days before a national election that already has had its shocking moments.
NBC’s report begins, "The U.S. government believes hackers from Russia or elsewhere may try to undermine next week's presidential election and is mounting an unprecedented effort to counter their cyber meddling.”
Russian involvement in the election has been a persistent issue in the presidential campaign, first with the seeming bromance between GOP nominee Donald Trump and then by the slow-drip release by Wikileaks of emails hacked from the Democratic Party’s servers to embarrass Hillary Clinton.
Whatever the state of U.S.-Russian relations, meddling in a U.S. presidential election by Russia would seem unprecedented and unprovoked. Russian President Vladimir Putin routinely blames the United States for interfering in Ukraine’s presidential election, apparently dislikes Microsoft and thinks Trump may be more amiable to Russian interests. It’s also possible Trump’s personal financial interests are tied in with the oligarchs surrounding Putin.
There are reports Russian interests helped to finance opposition from a pro-Russian coalition in parliamentary elections in Montenegro, where a central issue was whether the small Balkan country should seek membership in NATO. When the pro-NATO ruling party won the election, the pro-Russian forces cried foul and said the election was rigged. Russia denied any involvement, as it has with hacks into U.S. political groups.
Because elections in the United States are conducted by local and state authorities and the vast majority of elections aren’t conducted online, some experts question the viability of a major cyber attack on actual voting. But U.S. officials say the October attack of Department of Homeland Security computers had all the earmarks of a cyberattack drill. And the cyber attacks that denied service and shut down Twitter a few days ago showed there are lots of ways to meddle.
The NBC story raised the prospect of a fake document dump that implicates a candidate in “an explosive scandal without time for the news media to fact check it.” The goal would be to “sow confusion” and cast a shadow over election results.
While American voters have divided up based on their respective views of Clinton’s trustworthiness and Trump’s temperament, the specter of foreign intervention in the election has gone largely unnoticed, which made the election eve story by NBC more startling.
Many political observers believe the results of the 2016 presidential race are destined to be challenged over issues such as purged voting lists and attempts to suppress voter turnout. They probably never thought a challenge might involve the slippery fingers of a foreign power.