One of the more prominent stories in the news this week has been the slowly unraveling story around how Russia influenced the 2016 election. One of the primary goals of this site is to heavily source everything and provide a clear way for readers to understand my reasoning as well as make their own conclusions. A story where all of the actors are intentionally hiding their sourcing in the interest of personal and or national security does not fit well with that methodology.
The office of the Director of National Intelligence has released the declassified version of the classified document requested by President Obama with regards to Russian involvement in the election. I felt this was important to surface for people, but when the first 6 page of a 25 page document go on to describe how all of the information which can be used to verify the conclusions drawn in the paper have been stripped out, it certainly is a unique version of sourcing.
The document is definitely worth reading yourself and drawing your own conclusions, and most of the 25 pages are blank space so it’s not nearly as intimidating of a read as it first appears. To my mind, the overall conclusions drawn in the document are that 2016 represented a marked increase in a longstanding Russian effort to provide their own filter for events occurring in US politics. The document makes extremely clear that there was no evidence of actual votes being compromised by these efforts. Instead, the document highlights how Russian lead actors were involved in releasing information in a style and with timing intended to strongly influence American’s opinions of the two candidates.
They determine that it appears Russian actors decided to side with Trump back in the summer, and that through leaking information to sources such as Julian Assange and WikiLeaks; troll-inspired hashtag campaigns on Twitter; as well as spreading thought pieces primarily through a Russian media organization RT (formerly Russia Today). The vast majority of the document goes on to describe how what it defines as a “propoganda” news organization reported on its view of US politics. The document makes it clear that the information that was leaked through WikiLeaks did not show any evidence of forgeries.
The document doesn’t seem to highlight that anything officially released through the press was false, just that this RT publication appears to be strongly connected to the Kremlin and has a habit of being pro-Trump and anti-Clinton in their coverage of American politics. The document lists a bunch of situations where the Russian coverage of US politics is highly critical of our government as well as to highlight how RT has looked to increase its American audience, you know, like a news organization. It goes on to highlight the reach of RT is approaching the levels of other international sources such as Al Jazeera English and BBC World.
Having read the document, it seems on the surface like we are acting like Russia shouldn’t be allowed to have their own perspective on American politics. Any news organization can be defined as propaganda so I have a tendency to just look right past that word. Past that, a document which was purposely designed to be vague on specifics seems to go out of its way to make clear that this activity did not go beyond leaking confidential but correct information through WikiLeaks at (in)-opportune times as well as paying people to spread a particular perspective through the news. I don’t see how there’s anyway to claim that the very existence of our various Secret Service Organizations don’t make it clear that the US constantly engages in these same behaviors with regards to basically every election on the planet.
Beyond all that, this whole situation is just another example of something which is strongly bothering me thinking about the future of being a responsible citizen. During the Renaissance, it was possible for an individual to gain a working knowledge every field of academic knowledge. As the time has passed, this has become an increasingly ridiculous proposition. I feel like at this point we are crossing a point where the number of things you are expected to have a working knowledge of has surpassed what’s possible.
As I’ve highlighted before, the coming Internet-of-Things is setting it up so everyone basically needs to be a security expert if they want to safely use the future of everyday appliances such as door locks or refrigerators. Our political sphere is increasingly asking you to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to read various forms of leaked documents in order to be an informed citizen. If you have any interest in using any service or product you’ll also most likely need to be some sort of lawyer with all the various agreements you are asked to read and sign which can be updated daily without notifying you.
There are no signs that any of these sorts of expectations are decreasing, and mostly evidence that in the future these demands will only be stronger. I’m unclear how this can end well for the average person, the day is simply too short to gain the background necessary in these various fields to be making informed decisions.