The President and the Hackers

by Lawrence J. Fedewa (July 20. 2018)

Let’s clarify a few things regarding Rob Rosenstein’s indictments of Russian hackers.

  1. First, a reality check

Russians have been aggressively attempting to disrupt elections in Western democracies for decades. Before computers, they used newspapers, media, spies, and bribery to further their disinformation campaigns. There have been periodic episodes of American resistance ever since, starting with the Joseph McCarthy debacle in the 1950’s. Russians’ use of computer technology has grown apace with the expansion of the digital age, and has been tracked by the National Security Agency (NSA) since the beginning. Hacking and illegal use of stolen information is just one of many tools used for Russian information.

It is also true that the NSA engages in similar monitoring of Russian digital traffic. Nor are American efforts limited to Russia, as shown a few years ago by the scandal of US interception of  German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s private telephone conversations. Electronic spying of everybody on everybody else is the way of today’s world. It is therefore somewhat disingenuous for the American government to highlight recent Russian activities as though the Russians just thought of electronic meddling in an American election when Hillary Clinton decided to run for president again in 2015.

Now, let’s look at the Mueller/Rosenstein indictments of Russian GRU officers.

1. Russians targeted Republicans too 

Devon Nunes (R-CA) says that the hackers attacked not only the Democrats’ servers but also the Republicans’ servers.  As Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, he ought to know. Because Assistant Attorney General Rosenstein’s indictments of  Russian intelligence officers omitted this key information, Mr. Nunes warns that he and Special Counsel Mueller are deliberately conveying the impression that .the Russians favored Mr. Trump in the 2016 election. This sneaky tactic contributes to the partisan charges of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

 2. The “Intelligence Community” joined the fight against Trump

This observation follows the Deep State script which calls for the removal from office of the President of the United States. This plan was  spectacularly displayed by the appearance before Congress last week of the former head of the FBI’s Counterintelligence office, Peter Strzok, whose anti-Trump bias has been well documented. When combined with the other Obama intelligence chiefs, James Comey (FBI), James Clapper (NSA), Loretta Lynch (Attorney General), and one-time Communist former CIA chief John Brennan, the reluctance of President Trump to express his confidence in the USA “intelligence establishment” is not hard to understand. After all, they have collectively been plotting his downfall since 2015 – before and after his election as President.

3. Cyber Security is the job of the “intelligence community”, not the President

While these erstwhile public servants were spending their time plotting the downfall of their President, what they were NOT doing is fortifying America’s defenses against enemy access to our information infrastructure. The responsibility for denying enemy hackers access to America’s servers is not the job of the President. It is the job of the so-called “intelligence community”. Those same Trump haters have failed utterly in fulfilling their primary responsibilities. Then they had the audacity to express outrage at being called to account for their failures. Yes, the President could have handled better his infamous press conference with Mr. Putin,  but the hypocrisy of the “intelligence community” reaction was breathtaking.

4. The utter lack of effective cyber security

This brings us to the underlying problem of the entire situation: the utter lack of a viable defense of America’s most important channels of information. The lesson from the Edward Snowden affair was apparently missed by those for whom it should have been a jarring wake-up call. How did a lowly contractor obtain unimpeded access to millions of lines of classified code? Instead of blaming the people whose responsibility it was to guard our data, they  — and everyone else – blamed the messenger and missed the message altogether. So, here we are two years after the latest Russian attacks on our information infrastructure just now finding out about what they were up to—long after whatever damage they were able to accomplish had been done. And it is now lawyers who are in charge of the breaches. So, the techies not only didn’t stop the Russians (and the Chinese, Iranians, North Koreans, and Pakistanis, among others), but they couldn’t even discover the hackers!

5. A national disgrace or an unsolvable problem?

In one sense, this failure of our technical defenses is a national disgrace. On the other hand, the information age has ushered in a major advance in civilization, but it has also brought with it whole new threats to our life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

To be clear, Mueller is citing illegal access and utilization of  data on non-government networks. The first level of responsibility for the defense of these networks was that of the owners of the data, namely, the Clinton campaign, the DNC , the RNC, and the Trump campaign. For the NSA to mount a defense against threats to non-government organizations, immense costs in both funding and technology would be necessary. In fact, the costs may actually be come close to the scale of the threats themselves. Because it is not just government which needs protection; it is any function of our lives which is organized around digital data. This includes our power grid, our internet functions in telephones, banking, retail,  electric power, robotics (weapons, manufacturing), airplanes and airports, and millions of other digitally controlled functions. We are talking about creating a cybersecurity shield over the entire country, analogous to President Reagan’s nuclear shield called “Star Wars”.

6  Why is cyber security so expensive?

Briefly, cyber security is so difficult because of the differences in codes, protocols and input/output routines between the server (the computer which manages the primary functions of any network) and all the separate applications (e.g. programs such as, email, spreadsheets, browsers, word processing, games, etc.). Even if a security package has been installed on the server, many programs have separate access to the internet, or they have been allowed to operate outside the local server’s security system. It’s like having an alarm system for the house, but leaving a window outside the system, so that access can be had without tripping the alarm.

Thus, this architecture has only two options: either our programmers spend all their time on building interfaces to all the applications, or some access points are simply left alone, leaving an open door to the hackers. The currently available cyber security systems generally provide for a huge “umbrella” to be installed on the mainframe (large server) so that all programs must go through the same or similar pathways to get response from the server. But this is not only expensive in both equipment and manpower, but it also imposes annoying disciplines on the users. We all like free-wheeling access to our online banking, Facebook, Twitter, and all the rest. Current state-of-the-art cybersecurity procedures, however, preclude such easy access.

7.  Another interstate highway system

So, cyber security is expensive in money, and it also creates resistance among its user base. But without it, our very lifestyles are subject to devastating attacks from our enemies. Imagine if all the electric power went out of Washington DC and didn’t come back on – EVER!

We need an interstate highway system for American information flows – well built, funded and protected thoroughfares with many off-shoots going in all directions. The cost of this defense will be comparable to that of the 1950’s Interstate highway system, or the 1980’s Star Wars. But we cannot live much longer without it!


© Richfield Press, Ltd, 2018 (All rights reserved)

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