Ru­mors and reck­on­ing

A look at Rus­sian hack at­tacks is nec­es­sary, but it must be an hon­est in­quiry

The Washington Times Daily - - EDITORIAL -

Al­le­ga­tions of for­eign med­dling in an Amer­i­can elec­tion is se­ri­ous, in­deed. If it hap­pened, it’s a grave threat to how Amer­i­cans choose their pres­i­dents and mem­bers of Congress. Rus­sia has been ac­cused of in­ter­fer­ing in the re­cent bal­lot­ing, cast­ing a taint on whether Don­ald Trump won fair and square. Pres­i­dent Obama’s or­der to the U.S. in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity to con­duct a thor­ough re­view of cy­ber-at­tacks on the cam­paign is wel­come, pre­sum­ing the in­tel­li­gence agen­cies can be trusted to in­ves­ti­gate with­out fear or fa­vor. Of­fi­cial Wash­ing­ton can re­sem­ble a hall of mir­rors where noth­ing is as it seems, and dis­cov­er­ing where hope and fan­tasy ends and re­al­ity be­gins would be all to the good.

From bi­b­li­cal days to the present, cop­ing with “wars and ru­mors of wars” has been a fact of life, and the claims of a Rus­sian hack at­tack have so far fallen into the cat­e­gory of ru­mor, ru­mor pushed along by Democrats and their al­lies in the me­dia who can’t come to terms with the fact that their can­di­date lost the elec­tion. Both Democrats and Repub­li­cans have en­dorsed the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s an­nounce­ment that a probe into cam­paign ma­nip­u­la­tion would reach back to 2008.

Mr. Obama wants the Rus­sian hack­ing re­port on his desk by Jan. 20, his last morn­ing in of­fice. His cha­grin over the elec­tion re­sult raises the ques­tion of whether he re­ally wants to get to the bot­tom of things or merely hopes to un­earth a bomb­shell to put in the path of his suc­ces­sor. House Democrats have a longer-term in­quiry in mind, in­tro­duc­ing a bill that would im­panel a 12-mem­ber bi­par­ti­san com­mis­sion to con­duct the in­quiry.

There’s no doubt that hack­ing oc­curred. Wik­iLeaks posted on­line tens of thou­sands of emails and doc­u­ments ob­tained from anony­mous sources, some of them ex­pos­ing in­crim­i­nat­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions from se­nior Democrats, in­clud­ing John Podesta, the chair­man of the Clin­ton cam­paign, to cam­paign of­fi­cials. Repub­li­cans were said to be tar­gets of hack­ers, too.

In Oc­to­ber, the Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment and Of­fice of the Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence as­serted the be­lief that top Rus­sian of­fi­cials directed the at­tacks in an ef­fort to in­flu­ence the elec­tion: “The re­cent dis­clo­sures of al­leged hacked emails . . . are con­sis­tent with the meth­ods and mo­ti­va­tions of Rus­sian-directed ef­forts. These thefts and dis­clo­sures are in­tended to in­ter­fere with the U.S. elec­tion process.”

Mrs. Clin­ton claimed that 17 in­tel­li­gence agen­cies agreed that the Rus­sians were re­spon­si­ble for the leaks. This was widely re­garded as an ex­ag­ger­a­tion. Don­ald Trump’s re­ac­tion was mea­sured: “It could be Rus­sia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey.” For what­ever it was worth, Wik­iLeaks founder Ju­lian As­sange said the Krem­lin was not in­volved in pro­vid­ing the doc­u­ments he re­leased.

Amer­i­cans de­serve to know who launched cy­ber-at­tacks on the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. Un­sub­stan­ti­ated claims from both Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and anony­mous sources have not con­trib­uted much to the noise. Weasel words de­scrib­ing ev­i­dence “con­sis­tent with meth­ods and mo­ti­va­tions” have the ring of cir­cum­stan­tial ev­i­dence, which au­thor­i­ties some­time fall back on when they’re short on facts. Hack­ing is not the proper way to achieve trans­parency, but trans­parency is ex­actly what the pub­lic de­serves.

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