Whether Or Not You Believe Russia Interfered In The Election, We Should All Be Worried About Escalation Based On Secret Info
from the be-concerned dept
So, we just wrote about Obama administration’s tepid response to claims that Russians “interfered” with the Presidential election. In that post, we noted our concerns about the fact that we seem to be escalating a situation based on claims where we’re not allowed to see any of the actual evidence. I’ve seen a bunch of people arguing that anyone who won’t automatically accept that Russia interfered in the election should be dubbed either Putin supporters or, at the very least, “useful idiots” but we should be very, very careful about where this leads. I certainly think that there’s a tremendous possibility that Russian forces did intend to interfere with our election, but I’d certainly like to see some actual evidence — and the “evidence” provided so far shows no such thing.
And this should scare you. Not because it means that anyone is lying, but because it’s setting the stage for very dangerous things. If we’re setting the precedent that the US government can escalate situations based on purely secret knowledge, what’s to stop them from doing so over and over again? Put another way: for those who dislike Trump, but are happy about the White House calling out and sanctioning Russia, how will you feel when President Trump makes similar claims about some other country (perhaps one blocking a new Trump hotel?), and proceeds to issue US government sanctions on that country — but without releasing any actual evidence of wrongdoing beyond “government agencies say they did bad things.” Won’t that be concerning too?
Matt Taibbi, over at Rolling Stone, has an excellent article comparing this to when we started the war in Iraq — noting the similarities, in that the government (and the press) kept insisting that because certain government agencies said something (“Iraq has WMDs”), it must be true:
This dramatic story puts the news media in a jackpot. Absent independent verification, reporters will have to rely upon the secret assessments of intelligence agencies to cover the story at all.
Many reporters I know are quietly freaking out about having to go through that again. We all remember the WMD fiasco.
And, as he later notes:
The problem with this story is that, like the Iraq-WMD mess, it takes place in the middle of a highly politicized environment during which the motives of all the relevant actors are suspect. Nothing quite adds up.
If the American security agencies had smoking-gun evidence that the Russians had an organized campaign to derail the U.S. presidential election and deliver the White House to Trump, then expelling a few dozen diplomats after the election seems like an oddly weak and ill-timed response. Voices in both parties are saying this now.
And this is a big part of the problem. Because none of the evidence is public, beyond just statements of attribution, we’re left with no way to know what are actually reasonable responses. There’s a big spectrum of possibilities that might be described as “Russian interference” from merely helping some independent hackers release information (as some have charged) to using actual intelligence agencies to run a serious hacking operation (as others have charged), all the way up to actively tampering in voting systems (which some in the public now claim, but which no official has suggested actually happened).
The problem isn’t so much a question of whether or not the Russians did something. Maybe they did. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me at all if they did. At the very least, Russian officials seem to be laughing at everything going on now. The real issue is the danger of having the force and power of the US government responding to “actions” by stating things as true, without providing any evidence to back it up. In that space, a lot of mischief can and will occur. Looking back at the invasion of Iraq based on faulty reports is just one example. We should be learning from that lesson, not repeating it.