US Election – The First Cyberwar?

The presidential election is starting to look like the front line in a cyberwar. With different national and global actors waging a war of information (or disinformation), the main weapon being deployed seems to be the sowing the seeds of doubt in the minds of the US electorate. Its hard to say where it all started, but let us start with the emails, hacking, Trump, Wikileaks and the Russians.

So the emails. Wikileaks has got hold of a large number of (I should point out that it is at least plausible that visits to Wikileaks are recorded…) emails from inside the Democratic party, they seemed to think that they were enough of a smoking gun to bring an end to Hillary’s campaign. Maybe during a normal election, there is however nothing normal about this election. That said the constant drip of damaging stories has proved to be, well damaging, just so far not terminal. Where did the emails come from? Well, some people think Russian hackers got hold of them and then handed them over to Wikileaks. There is a degree of credibility to this hypothesis, when exactly the Russians decided to hack into the servers, and what Russians it is however are unknown. Truth be told we don’t know if it was Russians, Wikileaks may not even know it was Russians however they say it wasn’t. So how might this cyberwar be playing out?

Its the Russians and Trump

Russian narrative is useful to the Democrats and they can link Trump (possibly quiet legitimately) to Russians, he likes Putin because Putin said nice things about him. They can also link Trump to the leak/hack, he encouraged the Russians to hack the democratic servers. Maybe, just maybe, Trump’s intervention was enough to get the Russians interested? The timing of that probably doesn’t make sense, but its an interesting thought. Trump therefore could have fired shots in this cyberwar.

Its Russia doing it for themselves

It is possible that this is Russian mischief making, state backed or not, and they did perhaps just for the lolz. Or, to potentially push America into a state of political chaos which they would ultimately benefit from. Keep America fighting itself so they can push on with their own geopolitical agenda. However wins the election next week could very well be instantly bogged down in in this mess, leaving less time for dealing with global issues.

Wikileaks, where do they fit in?

Wikileaks could very well just have received this early Christmas present in their submission system. They have then used it to cause maximum damage by slowly dripping information out, they would likely say this is to increase the exposure of them and the function they perform in global society. Exposing what should be in the public domain. I have sympathy for this ambition, however they are also editorialising this story to cause maximum damage. Not that any other media company would do any different; do we call them a media company now? As far as I have seen there is no evidence that Wikileaks solicited the leak in any way. Therefore it will be up to the public to decide if the emails are in their interest, and potentially important enough to end Clinton’s political ambitions. I think one downside is that many people just read the headlines and not the content.

Where does Trump really fit in?

Is Trump a puppet of Putin that is being supported by Russian hackers? Its not totally out of the question. What the Russians are doing for Trump is well at least two things. One, if they did the hack, is provide a rich source of damaging headlines for Clinton. Trump should be nowhere in this election, but yet he hangs on somehow, helped by Clintons skeletons. The other is that the leaks provide a useful deflection from Trump’s own skeletons, not least the series of women that claim to have been sexually assaulted by him. Claims that have a degree of credibility. The thing that surprises me most about Trump is that anyone finds him at all compelling or even coherent. His speeches are often bizarre, drifting, rants that are difficult to follow. There is almost no policy, other than a few bits about walls and swamps. His suggestion that the election is rigged (unless he wins) just makes it more difficult to believe anything that comes out of this election.

So where does this leave us? Well, knowing very little for sure. This whole thing is the perfect disinformation operation, and it might not even have an orchestrator. The whole election campaign is now post truth, because the truth has become so hard to find in amongst the lies and half-truths. There are so many views, opposing views, and facts on both sides. So many agendas and seeds of doubt being sown, how does anyone make sense of what has been said, or assess its credibility? Cyberwar isn’t just about turning off the lights, it can be more subtle, and in this cyberwar its any sense of the facts and important issues that have been lost into the darkness.

About phil

Complex systems theorist, applying complexity theory to the operations of organisations.
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