Russian Investigation Should not be Partisan
I really love the movie “The Conversation” by Francis Ford Coppola as an interesting look at how spying ultimately creates a paranoid world where no one can trust one another.
Gene Hackman’s character in the movie is a wiretapper who comes to distrust the world so much that he puts seven locks on his front door and refuses to ever let any personal information about him get leaked.
The movie follows one man’s life and shows how things like wiretapping change the one who wiretaps more than the one who is wiretapped.
Our president is now Gene Hackman and past events seem to indicate it won’t get any better. We cannot have a paranoid man as our president claiming, without evidence, that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower.
We must be equally incensed if the Russia stories also turn out to be a ruse, but seventeen intelligence agencies seem to think otherwise. Three of Trump’s own advisors have already been caught lying. It may turn out, as did Watergate, that the coverup is worse than the crime. I am not accusing the White House of collusion with the Russians, but their paranoid coverups seem like it is going to be their undoing.
This is fundamentally different than Benghazi because, as the facts came out and contradicted the Obama White House, they both updated the facts and the American people. These events are not two sides of the same coin. President Trump seems determined to continue a deliberate misinformation campaign to distract from any negative press coming out of the impending Russia stories.
I also believe, however, that we should not approach the Russian hacking as a partisan issue. This interview of journalist Evan Osnos underscores the importance of a bipartisan commission to look into how Russia was so effective at influencing the outcome of our election:
Link to Daily Show Interview
I actually do not believe that a thorough investigation would turn out a criminal indictment against Trump or the people on his team (especially if they cooperate). I believe that a bipartisan commission would instead lead us to understand how the Russians infiltrated our election and the next steps we ought to take. I am not looking for Trump to be impeached for his ties to Russia, but rather the motivations for Russian operatives, the methods of Russian propagandists, and concrete steps for how to evade purposeful Russian misinformation campaigns in the future.
The 9/11 commission was created to try and figure out the intelligence failures that led to over 3,000 American deaths. Osnos points out in his interview that this attack, while no loss of life occured, was just as serious a 9/11. I might preface that statement that no event could possibly come close to the emotional and psychological impact of 9/11, but I think that this is also the thing that blinds us to how important such an investigation will be for our future.
If we continue to view conventional warfare and (I cannot believe I am trying to coin such a weird term) conventional terrorism as the largest threats to American security, we are misunderstanding the fundamental threats to our nation. The future of America is not a world run by ground troops and nuclear missiles, but rather where power is decided by who has the better drones, the better cyber warfare infrastructure, and the population with the technological know how to implement these fundamentally new weapons of war.
Rumsfeld’s wet dream during the Iraq years was a small ground force that could strike like lightning with the background weapons of shock and awe and quick lightweight, but powerful Humvees (as dramatized in The HBO series Generation Kill and in books like Cobra II) as a quick “tip of the spear” to quickly win wars instead of large ground forces that bogged down in quagmires like the Vietnam War. Obama seems to have taken this dream a step further. We now have Drone technology and special operations forces able to take out suspected terrorists without ever putting boots on the ground.
I believe it is not beyond imagination that the next stage of war will be entirely psychological. If we can change the minds of terrorists before they are radicalized not even drones will be needed. With the rise of big data, aggregators, and machine learning, we are not far from the this new dream of powerful governments becoming a reality. The war with really just be a war for the hearts and minds.
Let us take a thought experiment. If we could hack the email systems of Iran and somehow find information in those emails that places distrust in the minds of the Iranian people, the West could engineer a civil war situation where Iran would implode without America ever having to intervene. We just sit on the sidelines, continue to release information about the sides we want to win, and influence the politics to an outcome we see fit.
While such large scale disinformation campaigns in foreign governments are not something that the United States currently engages in, Snowden and others have shown that we regularly gather intelligence on these countries. The only thing stopping us from using the information for nefarious purposes is someone in the Oval Office or a head of CIA willing to do it. And even if the electorate were to somehow learn of the nefarious practice, it would not be a stretch for the White House to try to justify this practice not unlike justifying water boarding.
Now consider for a moment that for Russia this is not a thought experiment and that they have already started to see limited success. The future we want must be one that considers all the range of possible threats and not just the ones we already understand or have already become accustomed.