The New Year Is Upon Us, Part I

Pop 'em!

Pop ’em!

Welcome to 2017, folks.

So let’s talk about 2016. You’re safe now – it can’t hurt us anymore.

That whole election thing didn’t go the way most people thought it would. SMOD failed to make his much-anticipated appearance, for one. Of course, the expected victors have gone casting about for scapegoats and came upon two main (somewhat linked) guilty parties, in the forms of Russia and “fake” news.

I want to take on each of those in turn to discuss how we might make ’17 a little better. However, this post got long enough, I’ve split it into two. So Russia today (ha!), fake news tomorrow.

But let us first stipulate that neither factor threw the election – ultimately, in a contest between two incredibly disliked candidates (the non-meteor candidates, anyway), one was ultimately so disliked and represented things which so many people were fed up with, that that candidate simply lost, regardless of poorly-sourced clickbait or foreign propaganda. Under the rules that have served us well since 1788, that’s all there is to it.

For Russia – a few words. Russia has been doing what it does for a very long time. Toying with its opponent’s information environment and angling for strategic effect is a specialty of the old Soviet Union and Putin is well-acquainted with its methodology. The current situation is fortunate because we at least know about it, are discussing it, and are taking some sort of action (even if it’s maybe a few years late). If we were unaware, Russia would still be busy with disinformation efforts – maybe not expecting much to happen, but pushing just in case something did.

So, yes, let’s fight back and adopt deterrent measures and acknowledge that Russia doesn’t have our best interests at heart. But let’s also acknowledge that this is what they do. And we need to have a plan to deal with it. The indignant response from Washington these days implies we don’t.

And about that… I don’t mean to get tactical, as I can’t read the minds of Russian cyberoperatives, but I do have a hunch that they had no super-secret pre-election pollsters telling them anything we didn’t know in the U.S. It stands to reason that Russia expected exactly the same result we all did. Ergo, the targeted cyber raids and associated leaks aimed at the presumed victor were intended to weaken the domestic position of a soon-to-be-sitting President, and perhaps provide additional dirt they could leak after she was safely in office. The number crunchers’ data made the election seem like such a foregone conclusion, Russia’s interest was probably not on Nov. 8, 2016, but on Jan. 20, 2017. Using info obtained via the 2016 hack, they would gradually work to undermine the U.S. President in some yet-to-be-determined way over the following four years. I suspected they were as surprised as the rest of us when they realized they’d picked the wrong target (don’t worry – he’s next).

Bottom line: Take this as a lesson, people. Russia is Russia. What it does now, it always has done and always will do. It’s a fun place to go, but isn’t your friend. Don’t provoke it – but be ready for it.

Cyberwarfare is an unexplored world that presents new problems and requires equally new ways of thinking. Doctrines must be created or adapted, on which the indispensable Admiral Stavridis (ret.) has some thoughts. It stands to reason that the same country that helped develop maneuver warfare theory would be at the forefront of this new domain. It is time for the U.S. to catch up, if not respond in kind.

Stay tuned for Part II.

UPDATE: It appears my assessment of Russian intentions wasn’t that far off from the one in the Intelligence Community.

From page 12 of 25 of the UNCLAS report (courtesy New York Times):

“When it appeared to Moscow that Secretary Clinton was likely to win the presidency the Russian influence campaign focused more on undercutting Secretary Clinton’s legitimacy and crippling her presidency from its start, including by impugning the fairness of the elction. … Pro-Kremlin bloggers had prepared a Twitter campaign, #DemocracyRIP, on election night in anticipation of Secretary Clinton’s victory, judging from their social media activity.”

So, whoever the Russians’ preferred candidate was, they expected the same result we all did, and took actions to chip away at her future administration’s legitimacy. Of course, her opponent has enough baggage… well, I doubt many hacks were necessary to get dirt on him. (Might not have to wait long to find out…)

Two takeaways:

1.) If I may repeat from the original post, THIS IS WHAT RUSSIA DOES. Always has been, always will be.

2.) And even if every allegation is false (not likely, but still), it doesn’t matter, because in planting the seed of a doubt in the election’s legitimacy or playing up shady connections between Russia and the incoming POTUS, Russia has accomplished its goal of sowing discord and confusion. The joke’s on us either way.

Somehow 2016 just never ends…


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