The hack of the U.S. Democratic National Committee emails, now widely attributed to Russian intelligence, has set off a political earthquake in the United States. The brazenness of the attack, the crude attempt to intervene in a U.S. presidential election, and the equally bald-faced denial in the face of mounting evidence of Russian government complicity have prompted a host of questions that really amount to just one: How? Although a fully satisfactory answer may never be found, it is not too early to draw some conclusions from the episode—conclusions that should inform the general discourse about Russia, as well as about the challenge that Russia will present to the next U.S. administration, regardless of who is elected in November.
Those experts (including this writer), who, out of an abundance of caution, initially grappled with the news of the DNC break-in by invoking the inherent difficulty of investigating cybercrimes, now have the growing body of fact and analysis pointing to Russia’s role in the hack. In keeping with National Intelligence Director James Clapper’s recent remarks on this subject, the assumption should be that Russia was behind the break-in. At this point, to deny it would simply be misleading the public.
Why did the Russian government do it? Because it could. Knowledge is power. Having the inside scoop on an adversary is a source of leverage that is too good to pass up. And collecting such intelligence is what the Russian intelligence services have a long record of doing with some skill and success.
And why did the hackers release the data stolen from the DNC? Did they really intend to undermine Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and to help their presumed favorite, the Republican Donald Trump? It would seem naïve or delusional to expect that the leak would affect the vote in a country of well over 300 million in a campaign with so many resources being expended by so many interests. Any analysis of the
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