Analysis by Kyle A. Lohmeier
The Intercept ran a lengthy piece based upon a classified NSA document detailing alleged Russian “hacking” operations against a voting equipment company and election officials on the eve of the 2016 presidential elections. It was leaked to them by Reality Leigh Winner, a federal contractor from Georgia whom the FBI arrested on June 3 for removing the document that The Intercept reported on; she’ll appear in federal court this afternoon.
Sadly, for Hillary Clinton anyway, the document doesn’t contain any sort of smoking gun. The NSA report suggests Russian intelligence services conducted “spear-phishing” attacks that sought to trick employees of VR Systems, a Florida-based supplier of voting electronic voting services and equipment, into opening infected emails that would give hackers full access to all sorts of information. The NSA report indicates that hackers never did gain access to the ability to remotely control vote tallies on electronic voting machines.
In fact, the document, if indeed it’s legit – I don’t ever take the NSA at its word – doesn’t offer much of anything other than a detailed explanation of common “hacking” techniques that aren’t unique to Russia or even government-level cyber-espionage. Further throwing cold water on any notion that this document “proves Russia hacked the election for Trump” is the fact that the company “Russia” sought to compromise only has contracts in eight states: California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. Of those eight, Clinton won five of those states anyway. The only one of those states to experience any sort of election day malfunctions of their equipment was North Carolina. There, the voter registration system malfunctioned at a number of polling places, resulting in long lines and the use of paper ballots. A state-level investigation into those problems didn’t point to Russian hacking, according to The Intercept.
“George McCue, deputy director of the Durham County board of elections, also said that VR Systems’ software was not the issue. ‘There was some investigation there, essentially no evidence came out of it indicating there was any problem with the product,’ he said. ‘It appears to have been user errors at different points in the process, between the setup of the computers and the poll workers using them,” The Intercept reported.
The only outside fact that lends any weight to the legitimacy of this document is the fact the FBI arrested a woman for leaking it. The document itself, at least as far as The Intercept’s interpretation of it goes, doesn’t indicate the hackers, whoever they are, managed to influence a single vote. That the NSA says the “fingerprints” point to Russia is exactly meaningless as the government has tricks and tools to make any bit of Internet traffic appear to have come from wherever the government wants it to look like it came from. There is nothing in the document to indicate Donald Trump, or his campaign, was aware of “Russia’s” efforts or was in collusion with the Kremlin.
Indeed, The Intercept article points out the silliness of the idea of “hacking an election.”
“’Hacking an election is hard – not because of technology – that’s surprisingly easy – but it’s hard to know what’s going to be effective,’ said (Harvard Berkman Center cybersecurity expert Bruce) Schneier. “If you look at the last few elections, 2000 was decided in Florida, 2004 in Ohio, the most recent election a couple counties in Michigan and Pennsylvania, so deciding exactly where to hack is really hard to know,’” The Intercept reported.
So, either Hillary Clinton lost the election because Russian cyber-espionage agents managed to pinpoint targeted cyber attacks against people and machines in eight states which caused her to lose three of those eight to Trump; or, Hillary lost the election because she’s an unlikable, corrupt, shrill, out-of-touch, neo-conservative warmonger running for the third term of Obama’s failed presidency.
Occam’s razor suggests the latter hypothesis is more likely as it hinges on zero assumptions rather than the former which replies upon several.