In the run-up to the election, the e-mail servers of the Democratic National Committee were hacked and their contents published by Wikileaks. Now, Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, has spoken out to leave us in no doubt: it was a deliberate attempt by a nation-state to interfere with the election. And that is something we should really worry about.
He didn’t name Russia specifically. But as Quartz points out, an earlier joint statement by several U.S. intelligence agencies already suggested that the country was linked to the hacks. It’s worth reproducing the comment of Rogers, delivered at a Wall Street Journal conference, in full:
“There shouldn’t be any doubt in anybody’s minds, this was not something that was done casually, this was not something that was done by chance, this was not a target that was selected purely arbitrarily. This was a conscious effort by a nation-state to attempt to achieve a specific effect.”
Swept up in a maelstrom of Facebook’s fake news and widespread worries over Donald Trump, it’s easy to forget that the run-up to the election was heavily shaped by the drip-drip publication of several Democrats’ hacked e-mails. Compared to Facebook’s blundering, those e-mails may not constitute as easy a target for our scorn, but they are indicative of something far more nefarious: as Rogers points out, it was a deliberate plot to warp results by a foreign power.
Even if the release of the e-mails had a relatively minor impact on this election, it could be the beginning of a worrying trend. Security expert Bruce Schneier wrote in the Washington Post that “if foreign governments learn they can influence our elections with impunity” we could “[open] the door to future manipulations, both document thefts and dumps like this one that we see and more subtle manipulations that we don’t see.”
How the U.S. should respond, other than with much-improved encryption and security, is unclear. Joe Biden has said that the U.S. should retaliate with “a message … at the time of our choosing [with] the greatest impact.” President-elect Donald Trump hasn’t defined any specific plans for cyber policy, though he has declared a desire to “get very, very tough on ... cyber warfare.”
Until some solution is found, the U.S. political process isn’t even under American control.