Do you expect me to talk?
No, Mr. Trump. I expect you to win.
Bond… James Bond, was a legend of Cold War fiction. He was a handsome, fearless, well spoken man of action during a time when the politics of America and Russia dominated the global stage. Now, we once again find ourselves in a new type of Cold War, and we again look toward a singular figure to step up and take charge. Unfortunately, we are not talking about the suave and martini swirling 007. We are talking about Trump… Donald Trump, and he is a bit less “International Man of Mystery” and more “Mystery Man of International Politics.” Despite everything, we still do not have a clear picture on what his International policies will be, but we now know one think for certain, thanks to Russia’s help our elections have been shaken, not stirred.
S.P.E.C.T.R.E. of Things to Come
You may have heard recently that the CIA has built a case that Russian hackers used their skills to sway the election for Donald Trump. For his part, Donald Trump rejected the claims outright and accused the CIA of being wrong about “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq, so obviously they must be wrong about everything-ever-in-the-history-of-all-time. Here’s the thing, the US Intelligence apparatus is not always right. Also, they have not found a conclusive smoking gun to say that Vladimir Putin put his thumb on the scales of our election process… but the CIA, has a lot of evidence to back up their claim.
Here is the timeline of events: On June 14, it was reported that the Democratic National Convention was hacked. We know that for a fact, because the hackers released the DNC’s emails to WikiLeaks who then distributed them to the public. It resulted in several scandals, including the news that the DNC was against Bernie Sanders winning, at least in part. That hack was investigated by the private cyber security firm: CrowdStrike. They identified two hackers by the name of Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear, -because what else would you call villains in a James Bond film. The two bears have been known to work as political and economic hackers for the Russian Government. This finding was verified by Fidelis Cybersecurity and Mandiant, two additional private cyber security firms hired to audit the findings. Then in August it was disclosed that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had also been hacked. This hack was investigated by 16 US intelligence agencies, including the CIA. They also independently confirmed that the hack was directed by the Russian government. Now it has been alleged that the Russian hackers also hacked the Republican National Convention, but did not leak the contents of what they found. The GOP denies this, but if it is true it would mean the Russian hackers only released documents that could hurt Hillary Clinton, but kept secret the ones that could hurt Trump or the GOP.
This may not sound as exciting as James Bond kicking down doors, shooting Russian spies, and sleeping with sexy femme fatales, but these days intelligence works tends to be less about dry martinis and more about dry math and computer code. Results are also usually less definitive than having your top agent knock the bad guy off the suspended platform housed in a secret volcano base. As any real 007 could tell you, spies often need to work with incomplete information, but it is also their job to draw conclusions from what they have available. Right now, the CIA and the entire American intelligence community are all drawing the same conclusion, Russia did everything it could to help Donald Trump win the election.
Realistically, it makes sense. Vladimir Putin and Hillary Clinton have historically not had a good relationship. Putin blamed Clinton -who was Secretary of State at the time- and President Obama for legitimizing the Rose Revolution in Georgia, and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. Both revolutions ousted pro-Russian governments. Putin saw that as a deep affront to the Russian sphere of influence. Trump, on the other hand, has praised Putin for his leadership style, and they both share a similiar flair for right-wing nationalism. Trump also has a certain affinity for hiring people associated with Putin, including Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman that had to step down for having business ties with the Russian government and organized crime; and -of course- Trump’s new Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, who was awarded the Order of Friendship by Putin, and has many business ties with the government-owned Russian oil companies.
For the record, we are not saying that Trump is some kind of plant by Vladimir Putin. Donald Trump is a reality star and a buffoon but he not a secret Russian spy, nor is he some automaton begin controlled by the Kremlin. Trump is a narcissist and he will always do what is best for himself, and Putin knows this. It seems incredibly likely that Putin saw what was happening with our election and took advantage of the situation to put in power someone he believed that he could control. With right-wing candidates and initiatives gaining power in parts of Europe, and with a more pro-Russian American President, it leaves the door open for Putin to gain greater global influence and dominance in Eastern Europe.
We are pretty much living the plot of one of the weaker Bond movies. -Basically anything staring Roger Moore- We have a foreign, shirtless bond villain using diabolical means to influence the most powerful man in the free world. Except instead of using mind control, or kidnapping, or even the raw sexual musk of 1960’s Sean Connery, Russia is using the kind of tactics that hackers use on old people to get their social security number. Russia sent Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, a phishing email that asked him to change his password on his email account… and he did. So the Russian hackers got access to his email and then the DNC servers. So in this scenario, 007 could have been played by any IT guy who could have told him, “No! Never give your password out to random emails,” but in all fairness to Podesta, he was not the only one targeted by Russia cyber villainy. We all were.
You Only Die a Little Each Day
You see, Russia had several means at their disposal to influence our elections, and there most sinister method was trolling. Hey. it may not be an orbital death laser, but it proved to be just as effective. According to the New York Times, the Russian government hired people to pose as pro-Trump supporters on American social media to spread disinformation and stir up the American populace to vote against Hillary Clinton. So, let’s stop here for a moment. We are completely aware of how paranoid and crazy that sounds, but it actually happened. If you don’t believe the New York Times, believe The Guardian, or CNN, or even Samantha Bee. Believe someone, because it happened. For months there has been a concentrated Russian-backed effort to troll, hack, and alter the events of our election and that is something worth remembering and talking about.
Now with all that said, let’s put some things in perspective. Foreign governments, including Russia, have been trying to tamper with our elections for decades. In fact, Putin is following in a long line of Soviet leaders who have tried to alter the results before. What makes this time all the more shocking is the fact that they may have finally succeeded. The other thing to keep in mind is that, this was not a secret before the election. The CIA and other intelligence agencies had already concluded that the DNC hack had come from Russian-backed sources, but the public outcry was more about the contents of the released emails rather than the illegal activities of a foreign power.
Also, we are well aware of the irony to be found in the fact that CIA is complaining about a government altering the sovereign election of another government. That has kind of been their bread and butter for a while now, but we still need to address the elephant in the room, because right now it is wearing a Ushanka, drinking vodka, and doing a Cossack dance. Whether Donald Trump wants to admit it or not, Russia did influence this election. Would he have won if they hadn’t used trolls and hackers? We don’t know. We can’t say with anymore certainty, than we can predict how many STD’s James Bond is currently being treated for. All we know is that we were the target of successful Russian cyber-sabotage, and we knew it was happening. Heck, Trump even called on Russia to hack Hillary’s emails during the campaign, but instead of taking it seriously, we ignored it. We laughed it off. “Those types of things only happen in movies,” we said.
So, yes. We need to place blame on Russia for what they did. –More importantly, Donald Trump needs to place blame on Russia, and not the CIA– However, we also need to be aware of our complicity in this plot. We were the ones that allowed it to happen. We were the ones that fell for the trolling and the hacking and ignored the source of both, even though we were warned multiple times. This past election has left us with a lot to think about, and this is just another one of those things. Because, the real truth is that in this scenario Russia was James Bond. They basically walked right up to us, introduced themselves by first name, winked at the pretty girl, and then still proceeded to get exactly what they wanted.