How Russia Entered the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy

A September 6 story in the New York Times headlined "Nancy Pelosi Urges Paul Ryan to Ban Republicans From Using Hacked Documents" contains this:

Ms. Pelosi, calling the hack into Democratic servers, apparently by Russians, "an unprecedented assault on the sanctity of our democratic process," said Mr. Ryan should not condone either party using materials originating from the cybercrime.

"Democrats and Republicans must present a united front in the face of Russia's attempts to tamper with the will of the American people," Ms. Pelosi wrote.

Government officials have concluded that two Russian intelligence agencies, the F.S.B. and the G.R.U., are responsible for the hacking into the Democratic National Committee and the House Democratic campaign arm. Emails and other internal documents have been published by a hacker calling himself Guccifer 2.0, who is believed to be tied to the Russian intelligence agencies.

Google, right now, will find you hundreds of stories claiming Russian government involvement in a DNC hack that didn't happen – the material was copied and then leaked by someone with local access, not stolen by someone limited to remote network access.

In contrast, the original Clinton email leaks did come from hacking – but of the brute force kind that uses fake addressees constructed from the names used by the great houses of Europe (e.g., Windsor, Reynolds, Colbert, Stewart, Mojmir, and Bogdan) to identify targets and then goes after those sites using easily available modules tailored to the weaknesses inherent in poorly managed Windows hardware and software.

Thus, the bottom line on Russian involvement is first that not one person who is both in a position to know and not in thrall to the Obama administration has shown evidence for this, and second, that nothing revealed so far suggests the sophistication one would expect from state-level actors.

So why has Clinton been able to sell the idea that the Russians in general, and Putin in particular, are part of the vast right-wing conspiracy against her?

Part of answer is that the media generally want to hear this because they hate Putin for being a success but not a communist, fear Russia because its socio-political landscape now bears some resemblance to that of late 19th-century America, and want desperately to blame someone else for the disasters inflicted on the world by the Obama/Clinton foreign policy they so eagerly supported.

Another part of the answer is that it makes perfect sense for Russia to support Donald Trump.  Russia needs a strong America: as Trump says, they're natural partners in keeping jihadism down to its usual dull roar – and, never forget, the Russian nationality is surrounded by majority Muslim populations whose festering resentments against central authority continually threaten both civil and border war.

Of course, a ready audience does not in itself explain the message: why would Clinton and her allies want to implicate Russia in this?  Again, the obvious has to be part of the answer in that pointing at Russia gives the media something they want to help sell, avoids having to admit to internal opposition and poor management, and tends to unite the troops by giving them an external enemy.

The deeper reason, however, has to be that screaming "the Russians did it" distracts attention from the fact that Clinton's actions as secretary of state were consistently uninformed, arrogant, and rather stupid.

The easiest example of this in the Russian context involves the "reset" button she gave the Russian foreign minister in March of 2009.  Here's the story, as reported by the Washington Post on March 7, 2009:

... Clinton presented [Foreign Minister] Lavrov with a palm-size box wrapped in a green ribbon. Lavrov opened it and pulled out a yellow-and-black plastic box with a red button that clicked -- a symbol of the Obama administration's determination to "reset" the relationship, as Vice President Biden phrased it last month in Germany.

Lavrov, a tough-minded diplomat, burst out in a smile. At Clinton's urging, Lavrov joined her in jointly pressing the button down for the benefit of the cameras.

The word "Reset" was beneath the button, and the Russian word "Peregruzka" was above it.

"We worked hard to get the right Russian word," Clinton said. "Do you think we got it?"

Lavrov, who never misses an opportunity for a diplomatic jab, bluntly said, "You got it wrong." The word, he pointed out, was two letters off -- it should have been "Perezagruzka." What was there, he added, actually means "overcharge."

Clinton burst out in laughter and declared, "We won't let you do that to us."

Intended, as home audience political theatre showing the remaking of international partnerships destroyed by Bush administration incompetence, it became something else entirely:

  • The use of the Roman alphabet in place of Cyrillic for "Peregruzka" was at best insensitive and at worst an insult.
  • The use of the wrong word in the wrong alphabet showed the Russians that Clinton did not care enough about them even to consult the State Department's own Russian section.
  • Clinton's underlining of the American use of the wrong word was probably utterly naive but could reasonably be seen by Minister Lavrov as implying that he might not notice an error in his own language.
  • Hillary total misunderstanding of Lavrov's quick translation as "overcharge" showed her to be both historically ignorant and culturally chauvinistic – because "overcharge" is literally correct, but the reference is to gunpowder, not money.

(The more technical English rendition would be "overarm," a term of art referring to the rather dubious 19th- [and 20th-] century Russian willingness to overcharge ordnance at the risk of having the gun crew killed.)

  • Almost any Russian, and certainly any federal state official, would see the use of a green ribbon around a yellow and black box as a reference to the Ural Independence Movement – and, quite possibly, understand a red button on an overarmed plastic box done up in movement colors as a direct personal threat.

Personally, I think of the reset episode as a kind of exploding cigar: emblematic of Obama administration naiveté and arrogance and having nothing to do with any hacking effort, but in the upside-down world of the Clinton campaign's paranoid obsession with conspiracies against them, the hacking could be seen as Russia's answer to Clinton's moronic "we won't let you do that to us" – a kind of Russian "sí se puede" delivered in time to wreck her chance at the presidency.

Paul Murphy, a Canadian, wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration.  Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.

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