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Hacking Democracy

The election was ultimately decided by just 100,000 votes in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania combined, while Hillary Clinton won a majority of the vote nation-wide by nearly 3,000,000 votes.

In an election of such import, the margin was tiny. With the future of a world superpower in the balance, it was clear that such an upset victory, flying in the face of conventional politics, media predictions, and the expectations of international leaders, not to mention many Americans, was due to an outside influence.

US intelligence services concluded Russia intervened in the US election by hacking into Democratic National Committee emails and leaking them, as well as pushing fake reports aimed at hurting the reputation of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Reince Priebus, the head of the Republican National Committee and Trump's pick for White House chief of staff, told ABC News the party was not hacked. "The entire report is based on unnamed sources who are perhaps doing something they shouldn't be doing by speaking to reporters or someone talking out of line about something that is absolutely not true," Priebus said.

A May 2016 survey from the Nieman Lab said 44 percent of Americans get their news from Facebook. Facebook, in particular, came under fire, having surpassed Google as the biggest driver of audience on all social media platforms. According to an analysis by Buzzfeed News, fake election stories generated more total engagement on Facebook than top election articles from 19 major news outlets in the final three months of the 2016 election campaign. Facebook has launched a tool it says will help flag so-called fake news. The tool adds a “disputed news” flag on stories that have been deemed fake by what Facebook says are third parties, including Snopes, Politifact and Factcheck.org. Facebook announced the disputed news flag in December 2016.

The conflation of what information can accurately be described as fake or misleading or maybe only partially true, coupled with the warp speed of digital platforms like Facebook and Twitter, have created a perfect storm of confusion, said University of Connecticut philosophy professor and author Michael Lynch. “Confusion and deception is happening…. and mass confusion about the importance of things like truth follow in the wake of that deception," said Lynch, who wrote a column in The New York Times this week about impact of "fake news" on the health of America’s political system. “And that is absolutely corrosive to democracy.”

WashPost's Dana Priest, Ellen Nakashima and Tom Hamburger reported 04 September 2016 that : "U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies are probing what they see as a broad covert Russian operation in the United States to sow public distrust in the upcoming presidential election and in U.S. political institutions, intelligence and congressional officials said. The aim is to understand the scope and intent of the Russian campaign, which incorporates cyber-tools to hack systems used in the political process, enhancing Russia's ability to spread disinformation...."

David E. Sanger and Nicole Perlroth reported 25 July 2016 that the release "... of some 20,000 stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee’s computer servers, many of them embarrassing to Democratic leaders, has intensified discussion of the role of Russian intelligence agencies in disrupting the 2016 campaign.... the theft from the national committee would be among the most important state-sponsored hacks yet of an American organization... "

Clinton's campaign manager, Robby Mook, said on Transcript via ABC’s This Week: 24 July 2016 "... what’s disturbing about this entire situation is that experts are telling us that Russian state actors broke into the DNC, took all these emails and now are leaking them out through these Web sites. ... And it’s troubling that some experts are now telling us that this was done by — by the Russians for the purpose of helping Donald Trump. ... It was concerning last week that Donald Trump changed the Republican platform to become what some experts would regard as — as pro-Russian."

"It is the ugly little secret that the Trump campaign doesn’t want to discuss. When Donald Trump Jr. was asked about support of his dad by the Russian government, he blew a gasket on CNN. Trump can ramble on about emails all he wants, but the reality is that there is only one candidate who is being backed by a government that the Republican Party considers an enemy to America."

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, head of the Democratic National Committee, quit as head of the US Democratic Party on 24 July 2016 amid a furor over leaked emails that show party leaders mocked and criticized the upstart campaign of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, while he was waging an unexpectedly tough challenge to Clinton for the nomination. Wasserman Schultz, a US representative from Florida, was expected to officially step down at the end of this week's convention in Philadelphia. Sanders had demanded that Wasserman Schultz resign after WikiLeaks disclosed nearly 20,000 emails from Democratic Party leaders over the last year and a-half.

The theft and leak of embarrassing Democratic National Committee emails ahead of the party's convention are similar to other disruptive political operations believed to be tied to the Russian government, cybersecurity experts told the Wall Street Journal on 25 July 2016. "Multiple Democrats alleged the Russian government stole the emails and provided them to WikiLeaks for publication in an effort to help Republican nominee Donald Trump win the November election."

After Donald Trump’s comments at his press conference 26 July 2016, Hillary for America Senior Policy Advisor Jake Sullivan released the following statement: “This has to be the first time that a major presidential candidate has actively encouraged a foreign power to conduct espionage against his political opponent. That’s not hyperbole, those are just the facts. This has gone from being a matter of curiosity, and a matter of politics, to being a national security issue.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on 12 November 2016 endorsed a bipartisan probe of Russian interference in the election by the Senate Intelligence Committee. "The Russians are not our friends," McConnell said. He added that the investigation should be undertaken with the idea that "the Russians do not wish us well." McCain, along with Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrats Jack Reed and Chuck Schumer said the United States needs to stop "the grave threats that cyberattacks conducted by foreign governments pose to our national security."




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Unconventional Threat podcast - Threats Foreign and Domestic: 'In Episode One of Unconventional Threat, we identify and examine a range of threats, both foreign and domestic, that are endangering the integrity of our democracy'


 
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