WASHINGTON, July 26, 2016 — “You’re having an affair.”
“What makes you think that?”
“I read your text messages.”
“You broke into my phone?”
“You’re having an affair!”
“You had no business reading my personal text messages!”
“You’re having an affair!”
“Get back to the point! You read private mail that wasn’t your business!”
“You’re having an affair!”
“Stop changing the subject! I’m calling a lawyer! You read my mail. That’s just outrageous!”
“But you’re having an affair!”
The WikiLeaks dump of DNC email messages is outrageous. Most people who have expressed an opinion on the subject agree with that assertion, but not everyone agrees on the reason for the outrage.
The media have focused on the most trivial element: the political impact. The political impact will be minor. WikiLeaks had no impact on the Democratic nomination, which Hillary Clinton won today. It will have little or no impact on the election; Bernie Sanders’ supporters are outraged, but he has given Clinton his full-throated endorsement, and his supporters are falling into line.
The WikiLeaks revelations have incited Sanders supporters to boo and chant their way across Philadelphia, but from the political perspective, that really is a tempest in a teapot. That doesn’t make it politically trivial, however. A whistling teapot has the power to annoy, distract, and finally suppress serious conversation until someone does something about the blasted teapot or it runs out of steam.
In the worst case for Clinton, the email revelations will suppress the enthusiasm of Sanders supporters going into November. They will vote for her grudgingly for fear of Donald Trump, but they won’t boast of their votes on Facebook, harass their friends into voting, or beat the neighborhood bushes in search of Clinton voters. They won’t vote for Trump, nor will they, when they walk reluctantly into the voting booth and see Trump’s name on the ballot, cast a protest vote for Jill Stein.
If the polls are close going into the election, that kind of enthusiasm deficit will be catastrophic for Clinton.
The teapot will continue to whistle for a while, even though DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz threw herself on her sword.
There are other factors that will keep the heat under that teapot: Other DNC staffers who were responsible for the worst emails are still in their jobs; Clinton tossed Schultz a tube of lipstick by making her an honorary campaign chair; and Clinton’s choice of Tim Kaine as her running mate is a blatant appeal to center-right voters and a perceived slight to the left. So the “Bernie Bros” will continue to squeal until they run out of steam or the sound is lost in the background noise.
More important than the politics is what those emails tell us about the DNC, and the likely fact of Russian government interference into the American electoral process.
The evidence suggests strongly that the groups that hacked the DNC server were the Russian FSB (the Federal Security Service, successor agency to the KGB) and the GRU (the Main Intelligence Agency of the General Staff of the Russian armed forces). The two groups worked independently, launching highly sophisticated attacks that began over a year ago for one group (the FSB), and last spring for the other (the GRU).
That a foreign government would try to hack the DNC servers is unremarkable; they’ve attacked servers at Sony, the State Department, and probably your family bank. It would be naive to expect that neither the NSA nor the CIA has ever attempted to hack sensitive systems in friendly nations, let alone unfriendly ones.
Nor is it unusual for government to interfere in the elections of other nations. The U.S. has interfered with numerous elections, including in Italy (1948), Germany (1953), Thailand (1969), Israel (2015) and Haiti (2015). Sometimes the interference has been open, sometimes covert, and this doesn’t count American efforts to destabilize and incite the overthrow of foreign governments.
The British government worked mightily to influence the American public to support entry into war against Hitler’s Germany. The Soviet Union attempted interference in American politics on a number of occasions, as when they spread conspiracy theories about the JFK assassination and attempted to inflame racial passions in the 1960s.
So Russia tried to interfere in an American election? Shocking. As shocking as kids trying to have sex at band camp. These things happen because sometimes we get lucky, and the payoff seems worth the effort.
That doesn’t mean that we should shrug off the effort; this is a serious, high-stakes game, and it would be foolish to ignore it.
Democrats are focused on this element of the DNC emails: Russia tried to hurt Clinton and help Trump. Americans should be outraged, and they should be more outraged when, as Julian Assange suggests, more emails are released.
Assange, the embattled founder of WikiLeaks who is currently trapped in Ecuador’s London embassy due to an extradition threat to Sweden on rape charges, mocks Democrats’—and Clinton’s—obsession with Russia as the source of the leaked material. He told CNN, “It raises questions about the natural instincts of Clinton that when confronted with a serious domestic political scandal, she tries to blame the Russians, blame the Chinese, et cetera.”
That is likewise the view of Clinton’s critics, mostly Republicans but also many Sanders supporters. The big news isn’t the source of the leak, but its contents.
Who’s worse: the cheating wife, or the husband who found out about it by snooping in her phone? Supporters of the national security state, like Clinton, are fond of saying, “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.” The DNC had much to hide, and Assange promises more. It seems that Clinton and the DNC may also yet have much to fear.