to hack, or not to hack, or when you have the means but not the motive
One of the internet’s most often retold tales of witty comebacks involves an anti-gun journalist and a military officer who was teaching young boys how to shoot rifles safely on a range. The journalist asks whether it’s a good idea to teach boys how to shoot, saying that this skill may equip them to become violent killers in the future. The officer retorts: “well, you’re equipped to be a prostitute madam, but you’re not one, are you?” Now, I’m rather sad to say this never actually happened in real life, but the moral of the story serves a purpose. Whenever you’re about to accuse someone of a misdeed, capability alone doesn’t mean anything. Many studies have shown that with the right incentive, or enough detachment, anyone is capable of doing horrible things to a fellow human being and once we do enough evil things, evil becomes a banal chore to which juries and courts seldom have a proper reply. Pointing to a capability to prove something nefarious, in other words, is irrelevant. It makes far more sense to point to a motive, then work your way back to how exactly the deed in question was executed and find all those involved.
This should seem obvious, but in the last few days, numerous Kremlin trolls along pro-Russian conspiracy theorists forgot how this works as they tried to convince their audience that the CIA framed Russia for the notorious DNC hacks, citing the capability to do so in the WikiLeaks dump of their hacking tools and malware as all the evidence they seem to need. And right there we end up with an obvious problem. Disguising your tracks online is quite easy, and if you have little regard for the law, a version of Tor with plugins to pick and choose what scripts will execute, plugins often used to block ads and all sorts of nasty tracking cookies for safety conscious users, and several steps I would much rather not detail because a vacation to Club Fed doesn’t sound like a good use of my time, you can execute a cyber false flag or frame your competition in the span of an hour at most. If this is what the CIA wanted to do, it wouldn’t even need the tools the conspiracy theorists claims it had for just such a task. Anybody who at least played a bit with computer security at some point knows how to hide their digital fingerprints.
With disguising one’s point of origin being a triviality and malware reuse in the wild being quite common, we need to toss aside the technology to think whether using it actually makes sense. Why would the CIA hack the DNC to then hand over the data to WikiLeaks? Wouldn’t this imply they wanted to boost Trump’s chances to win? But spooks like predictability, continuity, and deference to their analyses, and it was clear from day one this wasn’t going to happen with Trump as president, and even with 17 intelligence agencies a phone call away, he seems to prefer Breitbart for his intel briefings than the actual data gathered by the formidable American intelligence apparatus. It’s kind of like burning down the house, framing your competition at work for arson, then not even getting an insurance payout and having to rebuild your home from scratch. Who would possibly approve this plan? Did they cut off their nose to spite their face? Or was there some sort of long con in which a President Trump was either a successful outcome or a pawn?
No matter how hard we try to get away from Russia’s influence here, we just can’t. Not only is every piece of circumstantial evidence pointing to Russians having every incentive, means, and motive to pull off hacks, disinformation campaigns, and conduct shady backroom deals, every time someone on the Trump team is asked about Russia, they break out in cold sweat, denying the thought they have ever met with someone who even has a Russian accent, to later suddenly recall that they may have met with Russian figures when they are confronted with proof of a meeting, and rush to reiterate that it’s totally normal to meet wth other government officials. Which it is. But then why go out of your way to deny that meeting? If the CIA is behind the hacks and no one in the administration is doing anything untoward with Russia, it would also have to imply that Langley put them up to this. For what purpose? How convoluted and deep should their long con go if a part of it has to frame the executive branch of the United States as a Russian fifth column?
Remember that Russia is not funding ISIS or al Qaeda, it’s under sanctions, and the last time it tried to run a spy ring in America, it was quickly busted up, with its most photogenic member becoming a Russian celebrity after her swift deportation, and curiously, having Assange fawn all over her on Russia Today after Trump’s win. What plan would involve the CIA giving Russia an upper hand on suddenly challenging the integrity of NATO and becoming a threat to American interests, willingly giving itself a black eye? If anything, having Clinton win the election would’ve allowed them to stay on course in wearing down Russia’s ambitions to restore its Soviet sphere of influence. If they were somehow trying to frame Trump into looking like a Russian spy in a fabricated scandal, the CIA could’ve easily done so without hacking any of the DNC’s computers. This wouldn’t be the first election they tried to skew, and with many shady dealings in his past, the blackmail material on Trump is more than enough to weave a compelling enough tale for the voters.
At this point, we’re grasping at straws to justify any reason for the CIA to use its knowhow to hack the DNC and hand over the data to WikiLeaks without doing the equivalent of giving itself a black eye, whereas it’s obvious why it would make perfect sense for Russia to make life miserable for Clinton. And unless the powers in charge at Langley suddenly decided to advance Putin’s interests instead of American ones, it seems bizarre to point the finger back at them for the hacks. Unless of course you’re trying to steer the now really uncomfortable conversation about Russian hacking and propaganda wars as far away from those most likely to benefit from it as possible, or are such an impassioned Trump fan that anything besmirching his victory upsets you so much, you’re ready to grasp onto any conspiracy exonerating him from any shady ties to Russian interests and excuses his ever more paranoid outbursts on Twitter. Unfortunately, you’re gonna need a better conspiracy theory…