NSA to use “Russian hacker” fears to expand surveillance of US
Last Tuesday, during his testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, National Security Agency director Admiral Mike Rogers echoed the previous testimonies given by former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and other U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials, who have sought to use the “Russian hacking” narrative as leverage to justify a greater role for their own agencies in supervising U.S. elections.
Following a question from Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) during the hearing, Rogers stated, “If we define election infrastructure as critical to the nation and we are directed by the president or the secretary, I can apply our capabilities in partnership with others – because we won’t be the only ones, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI – I can apply those capabilities proactively with some of the owners of those systems.”
In response, Sen. Hirono asked, “You are still awaiting direction from the president for everyone to coordinate efforts to stop this kind of thing from Russia’s part?,” referencing statements made by Rogers and others that have blamed Russia for interfering in elections in the U.S. and elsewhere. However, neither Rogers nor any U.S. intelligence agency has yet to release any proof of these allegations.
When Rogers responded that there was no “defined mission” to stop alleged Russian interference, Hirono responded, “We need to do that for everybody to come together.”
Rogers is not only pitching for the NSA to have a greater role in upcoming U.S. elections but also in elections in other nations, namely France and the United Kingdom. After a question from Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Rogers stated, “We [NSA] had talked to our French counterparts prior to the public announcements of the events publicly attributed this past weekend and gave them a heads up. ‘Look, we’re watching the Russians. We’re seeing them penetrate some of your infrastructure’.”
He then added, “We’re doing similar things with our German counterparts, with our British counterparts, they have an upcoming election sequence.”
While Rogers, along with several senators, are pushing for greater oversight of the U.S. and foreign elections due to the possible threat of “Russian hackers,” an examination of elections held over the past year suggests that the specter of Russian interference only emerges when the U.S. establishment’s preferred candidate or outcome does not prevail.
Russian specter fails to appear – except in U.S. and other elections
In 2016, elections in Iceland, Spain, Hungary, Australia and Croatia all had outcomes that were not favorable for Russia, as the results led to wins for pro-EU and pro-NATO interests. The Russian hacking narrative only emerged in the U.S. election after leaks derailed Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, as well as in subsequent elections in Bulgaria and Moldova where pro-Russian candidates won.
Another complication for the narrative is the curious case of Russian hacker Yevgeny Nikulin, who stands accused of hacking U.S. corporations. According to Nikulin, FBI agents offered him money, U.S. citizenship and a free apartment in exchange for confessing to hacking Clinton’s campaign and claiming that he did so under direct orders from Russian President Vladimir Putin. If U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies were so assured that Russians hacked Clinton’s emails, why would they make offers such as this to a Russian hacker who they were pursuing on unrelated charges?
However, the greatest complication for those who have accused Russian hackers of leaking Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails to WikiLeaks came yesterday. Separate reports of a federal investigator and a former DC homicide detective essentially proved that WikiLeaks came into possession of DNC emails through Seth Rich, a DNC employee who – not long after he allegedly passed emails to WikiLeaks – was gunned down last July. The substantial evidence that the leaks came from a DNC insider and were not “hacked” effectively demolishes the Russian hacker narrative.
Yet, the most glaring admission from Rogers’ testimony is the fact that the U.S. is already deeply embedded in the foreign nations they have offered to help protect from potential election interference. As revelations released by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden showed, the NSA infiltrated the communication systems of France, the UK and Germany long ago, including those used by their political leadership. In addition, the NSA’s “Tailored Access Operations” (TAO) unit is known to infiltrate computers around the world in order to aid in “foreign intelligence collection.”
In looking at the concrete evidence available regarding past election interference, the U.S. emerges as the most likely culprit – not the Russians. For instance, in the 2016 election, the state of Georgia reported multiple hacking attempts targeting its election infrastructure, as did other states like Kentucky and West Virginia. These attempts were not linked to a foreign government, but to the Department of Homeland Security.
In addition, WikiLeaks’ publications of the CIA’s “Vault 7” hacking tools have revealed the intelligence agency’s ability to carry out cyber attacks that leave digital fingerprints that can be tied to foreign state actors who are not actually responsible for the attacks – the digital equivalent of a “false flag” attack. Some have suggested that this tool was used in the recent French hack of French President Emmanuel Macron’s emails, as Russian metadata and the names of Russian intelligence contractors were carelessly left inside files that were linked to the hack.
Given that the U.S. is confirmed to have interfered in 81 elections since 1946, it seems likely that the “Russian hacker” excuse is just a foil for the U.S. deep state to gain greater control over U.S. elections and those of its allies, making any future U.S.-led election interference that much easier to accomplish.