Accusations that Donald Trump and Putin have some kind of mastermind plan to steal the election by hacking the Democratic National Committee’s servers are flying around, fueled by Trump’s relentless need to be outlandish at every turn. While I don’t dispute the idea that the Russians might have some greater plan to affect the election, Trump’s involvement gives the man more credit than he’s due.
First of all, there were two sets of hackers in the DNC servers, one of which started in January 2015. No one at that point knew Trump was running (beyond maybe occasional rumors), and even if they did, he did not seem like a credible candidate until really January 2016, a full year after the start of the first hack. Moreover, hacking the DNC servers is not a one day or one week job (I hope). The motivations for hacking the DNC need to be traced back to at least the fall of 2014, making the idea that at least the initial hack was an effort to help Trump less credible. The second and more recent hack apparently specifically targeted the opposition research on Trump within the DNC. While it is easier to argue that this hack aimed to help Trump, it is unclear how having that opposition research, even if completely handed over to Trump, would give him much of a leg up and be worth all that effort.
What is a much more credible argument than the Russians hacked to help Trump is the Russians hacked to help the Republicans. First off, it seems for now that the hackers did not target the Republican National Committee, though frankly evidence that they tried would not necessarily blow down this argument since it could have been just for show. More importantly, the United States today is, arguably, in the strongest position globally than it ever has before in history, and this position of strength is directly attributable to the Obama administration. This position of strength is not derived solely from military or economic might, but rather from persistent and widespread diplomacy and relationship-building combined with its first class intelligence apparatus. I would be surprised if most of our relationships around the world did not include some kind of (perhaps limited) intelligence sharing. As such, not only does the United States have the largest trove of personally collected intelligence, it also has access to much of the world’s collected intelligence. This collection is a distinct threat to Russia – Russia might have the best intelligence collection after the United States, but Russia’s intelligence gathering compared to the United States plus the world’s intelligence gathering is, statistically speaking, most likely not even a contest. To push matters further, I am sure that the Iran agreement included some limited intelligence sharing, which means that the United States even has Iran on board for that collection. Over the last eight years, with all the acrimony and belittling of Obama’s foreign policy, combined with the rise of nativism and isolationism that far preceded Trump’s candidacy, it is clear that with a Republican in the White House, Trump or otherwise, that network of relationships and intelligence sharing would get ripped to shreds. That would be Putin’s dreams come true. And that kind of motivation would explain why Russia would plot to hack the DNC in the fall of 2014 or earlier.
That being said, I don’t think we have seen the end of these emails, and, since they potentially have the power to affect the election, this breach should be taken with the upmost seriousness by all Americans, not just Democrats. Republicans had no problem accusing Obama of interfering with an international election when he warned of the dangers of Brexit in April of this year – what Putin has done is far more meddlesome, explicit, illegal, and dangerous, and no Republican I know of has said anything accusatory thus far. But logically, if two sets of hackers were in the DNC servers since January 2015, and apparently may have also targeted some personal emails of staffers, in the height of primary and fundraising season, only 20,000 emails seems too small a number. A new release say right before a presidential debate to change the topic would not surprise me.
So don’t give Trump the credit for such foresight and planning. This goes way beyond.
Note: for the complete rundown on the hacks, CrowdStrike, the firm the DNC hired to investigate the hacks, wrote a pretty extensive blog post.