Smoking Gun: Did the Russians admit to Interference in the US Election?

By Don Van Atta | (Informed Comment) | – –

A little-noticed Russian diplomatic approach to the US on 17 July amounted to an official admission by the Russian Federation that it interfered in the 2016 US election through cyberwar techniques including hacking and spreading fake news. Those facts are now widely known, but some commentators, and President Trump, continue to deny that the Russian government was responsible.

On 8 December, Buzzfeed News reported that the Russian Federation proposed, at deputy minister level, to negotiate an agreement with the US on mutual non-interference in each other’s elections. The trade would have been no more RF cyberwar on elections for an end to US democracy promotion programs, apparently including an end to uncensored US news reporting in Russia and broadcasting in and to the country.

Radio Liberty broadcasting into the Soviet Union had a substantial, if difficult to measure, effect on public opinion and eventually the collapse of the Soviet regime. RL and related international broadcasters now are the major available alternative to state-controlled disinformation, which, seems much more brazen and fact-free than it was in Soviet times.

The Russian government blames US Agency for International Development-supported democracy promotion programs, including training in election observation, investigative reporting and voluntary group organization, for the several “color revolutions” around the country’s periphery since 2004. Russian President Vladimir Putin believes these activities created the wave of demonstrations that followed his most recent election as president in 2011. They are at the root of his well-known antipathy for Hillary Clinton.

According to the official State Department press release, the US-Russian “conversation was tough, forthright, and deliberate, reflecting both parties’ commitment to a resolution. The United States and Russia seek a long-term solution that would address areas of bilateral concern that have strained the relationship. The talks reflected a spirit of goodwill, (”> but it is clear that more work needs to be done. ) There do not seem to have been any follow-up communications on the proposal.

In December 2016, a senior official of the Russian Federal Security Service, FSB, a senior FSB staff member, and two other computer hackers were arrested and charged with treason. Recent reporting in the Russian press indicates that these people have been charged with treason for having confirmed the Russian cyberattack to US intelligence ().

The Russians have admitted that they hacked the 2016 American election. Their efforts to exacerbate existing tensions in the US have been wildly successful at a small cost to them.

The hacking is an existential question for the American political system. The US must find ways to protect against and defeat such meddling in the future. If Americans cannot believe in the honesty of their elections the legitimacy of the political system is dangerously undermined.

Don Van Atta is a Fellow at the Center for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He first visited the USSR in 1977, and has lived for long periods of time in the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Georgia, Tajikistan and Latvia since 1988. obtained his Ph.D. and Certificate in Slavic and East European Studies in 1984 from the University of California, Berkeley. The Georgian Agricultural University in Tbilisi awarded him an honorary doctorate in 2005. He has taught Soviet politics, foreign policy and military policy at San Francisco and San Jose State Universities and at Hamilton College (Clinton, NY).


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Rachel Maddow: “Russian Report Confirms Attack On US Election | Rachel Maddow | MSNBC”

8 Responses

  1. I’d like to know how Russian “… hacking is an existential question for the American political system.” The US is an oligarchy and the people already know that it is fundamentally dishonest.

    The Israeli’s have been meddling in the US political system for decades so Russophobia pure and simple is powering articles like the above.

    Then you have the likes of an article from today: “State Dept Spends $1 Million Funding Venezuela Opposition.” The hypocrisy is unbelievable.

  2. The intercept published a copy of a US dirty tricks manual for interfering in the politics of foreign countries. Character assassination, honey traps, etc were listed as tactics.

    While it is impossible for the average intelligent US citizen to discover the truth, since deception and deflection are key competencies of intelligence agencies, this article seems to be hopelessly naïve. All covert intelligence operations have cover stories, yet this author seems to believe the US limits itself to noble “democracy promotion” based on the official cover stories. It is a crime for a whistleblower to reveal the truth in the US (just as it is in other countries). So it is silly to just buy the official US cover stories, as this author does. Of course it is also silly to buy the official Russian cover stories.

    What is a citizen to do? I have no useful advice. Such is life.

  3. I find it surprising that such an astute observer of Middle East politics would publish such nonsense without editorial caveat. It’s been established that the grand Russian social media buy in the United States was about $100K (a literal pittance, as to hope to compete for a seat in congress a candidate must spend about $2 million while a Senate seat requires a spend of about $10 million). Half of this grand spend was after the US presidential election. Many alleged Russian trolls turned out to be homegrown American as apple pie troublemakers.

    As others have pointed out, the USAID budget at $27.6 billion for “promoting democracy”, otherwise known as US interests dwarfs any spend by other countries. In Russia alone USAID was spending about $150 million/year before Moscow asked them to leave the building in 2012.

    This does not include additional on budget (blackops are on a separate, secret balance sheet) security spend of almost $17 billion.

    Hypocrisy would be a ridiculous understatement. These numbers are well know to the publisher of this website. The boy who cried wolf comes to mind.

    • How would you feel about a foreign country busting into the voter databases of counties favoring your own political party? Why don’t you want to even know why this was done and how much your opposition party was involved?

      There’s one revelation after another of Trump people meeting with Putin people before the election, which they invariably lied about. After each one you say, “that’s all there is?” Why do you not want to keep following the trail and see if the $100,000 is just the tip of the iceberg?

      Remember when Watergate was just a bungled break-in, and the investigation seemed to die out? You seem to not want this to be another Watergate for some reason.

  4. Who needs fantastical stories of Russians throwing our elections when the giant elephant in the room (pun intended) is the documented and demonstrable efforts of Republican’ts through gerrymandering, voter suppression and outright election fraud to throw our elections?

    • What if Republican knowledge of Russian aid – specifically Russian break-ins into county databases of voters in urban areas that favor Democrats – reaches down below the White House? Obama told the GOP Congressional leaders before the election about some of the things going on, and they stalled.

      In that case this isn’t just a Trump problem, but an entire GOP problem. Let’s keep investigating and find out.

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