From Russia With… Confidential Email Hacking

This past week, over 2,000 emails from the chairman of the Hillary Clinton campaign, John Podesta, surfaced on WikiLeaks. The subject that has gained the most traction in the media (regarding the leaks) is the contents of Clinton’s set of paid speeches to Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and Morgan Stanley. Clinton was paid about $225,000 per speech and in total she made about $22 million giving these speeches. These speeches were given behind-closed-doors, and previously the Clinton Campaign has refused to release the transcripts. This inevitably led to the suspicion that Clinton had sympathetic feelings for Wall Street.

The Podesta emails contained excerpts from these speeches, and to some degree proved these suspicions correct. Allegedly, Clinton has admitted that she’s “out of touch,” and that “you need to have a private and public position on policy.” These are two statements that look rather bad for a presidential candidate who is attempting to rally the vote of Bernie-millennials. Clinton has repeatedly been seen as robotic, and not genuine. However, what are the actual ramifications of these emails? If these emails had been available during primary season, this would have no doubt been beneficial to Sanders, as it would have given him firmer ground to stand on. Yes, the emails do paint Clinton in a rather negative light, however I doubt, there will be any implications. Also, Clinton has not done anything illegal—or rather quasi-illegal— like for instance accidentally using her personal email for information-sensitive material or “accidentally deleting” 30,000 emails. This is all rather flashy.

However, there are some key questions and information lurking below this flashy surface. Such as, who leaked the emails? The US government has accused Russian hackers of leaking the emails in order to undermine the election.  Although, there has not been much coverage about this as it’s been overshadowed by the information released I the emails.

While the freedom of information to the public is an important part of the democratic process, is it right for information to be accessed by illegal means, notwithstanding the fact that it is a foreign agency disseminating this information?

This is not the first time that Russian hackers have intervened in domestic affairs. Earlier this year, Sweden’s air traffic control system came under attack by Russian hackers. The attack effectively shut down Swedish air traffic controllers’ ability to see their displays. This caused the delays and cancellation of both domestic and international flights. In addition to this, according to the BBC, in 2015 France’s TV5 was almost destroyed by Russian hackers—previously believed to be ISIS. Russia has also allegedly interfered in the Dutch referendum regarding the Ukraine Association Agreement, something that has deeply vested Russian interests.

The successful of these hackers to obtain private data, and destroy technological infrastructure is an issue of national security. Unfortunately, the fact that hackers can undermine data protective measures—as well as national elections—says something about the international security norms regarding the internet and computers. With this, there is no precedent in place to combat these hackers, and condemnation seems to be the only “Band-Aid” solution at the moment.

Furthermore, the execution of these attacks has been coupled with increasing Russian aggression in Syria. Originally thought to be a partner in the efforts in Syria with the West, Russia’s actions have spoken otherwise. In late September, it is believed that Russian planes bombed UN aid convoys near Aleppo, Syria. In addition to targeted bombings against aid, Russia has begun to increase military fortifications in Crimea to put pressure on Western governments.

What we should extrapolate from these email leaks is not, that Clinton has cozied up with Wall Street—but rather the fact that foreign agents can undermine national and private security. These multiple hacks on Western institutions, coupled with Russian aggression in Syria and Eastern Europe should not be taken lightly. Unfortunately, it isn’t particularly clear what Mr. Putin and Russia want. However, two things appear to be obvious. If the allegations are true, Russia is looking to undermine the election of the global economic and defense hegemon. The US is the largest contributor to NATO, so it would make sense to undermine a political candidate whose opponent has been sympathetic to Russian relations. The other obvious element is that Russia is attempting to flex its power, while toeing a rather thin line. Can Russia show its military strength, maintain its power in the region and pursue its interests while at the same time not having NATO, or the West take military action? Mr. Putin knows one thing, that if he continues to only toe this line, military action from the West is unlikely.

Amidst, Russian military aggression and the noted cyberattacks a bigger conversation should be started. How do we protect our data from foreign influences? How does the West and the US respond to alleged Russian aggression? What are the implications of foreign interference upon the US election process? There needs to be a greater focus by the media on the bigger issues.

While the leaking of Clinton’s speeches should push us to scrutinize her, more importantly it should ignite a conversation about international security, data protection, and election integrity.

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