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Manufactured Bogeyman: Trump, Mainstream Media, and Russian Hacking

Dr. Matthew Crosston

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The current America media coverage in the West on the Russian-hacking scandal has largely been used to further portray President-elect Donald Trump as either an oblivious ignoramus (granted, this is not the only issue used to try to portray the President-elect in such a light) or as some oddly recalcitrant Russian patsy, being used and manipulated by a strategically superior Vladimir Putin. Part of this motivation is clearly rooted in a still bitterly disappointed progressive movement that clings to the hope some piece of information can emerge before January 20th that might derail the inauguration.

Since the possibility of recounts, voter fraud, and other such shenanigans seemed to wither and die on the vine before they could gain any real momentum, the Russian-hacking scandal is now the du jour focus for the anti-Trump brigade. Since largely domestic procedural complaints failed, perhaps an international espionage illegitimacy angle will work? The reality is this will not work and for several important reasons. It seems that mainstream media isn’t interested in covering these reasons but the larger global community should be cognizant of them.

1. The relative insignificance of the information released through hacks

It has been rather odd to see how a fact that was hugely trumpeted by progressives during the campaign is now being largely shoved under the media rug, as it were: that just about all of the massive trove of emails released by Wikileaks contained either self-evident ‘duh’ moments (the Democratic National Committee felt it needed to support Hillary over Bernie in order to have a better chance in the national election? This is news-worthy or a surprise to anyone?) or were mind-numbingly boring (exactly how many Podesta emails must we read to know that Podesta really wasn’t all that important in the election campaign?). The interesting bait-and-switch being performed now in mainstream media is that the public is being told to not focus on the content of the hacks but simply on the process: that a foreign nation allegedly engineered the release is what needs to be criminalized and anyone who benefited from it should be nullified. Creative, most certainly, but not legitimate to nullify the election because no one will be able to explicitly and quantifiably show the impact any alleged Russian hacking had on actual voter turnout. Without that crucial evidentiary connection the trail simply goes dormant.

2.The crucial aspects of Hillary’s poor performance in key-Democratic areas cannot be truly tied to Russian hacking

Three crucial states that Hillary ultimately lost were Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Florida. Inside each were three key democratic stronghold cities: Detroit, Philadelphia, and Miami. Hillary handily beat Trump in all three, mostly by percentages in the high teens. A prominent victory for sure in most races. The problem, of course, is that Obama four years earlier had taken those three cities over Romney by percentages as high as EIGHTY, a truly astounding figure. This trouncing helped Obama carry those three crucial states in 2012. Hillary’s relatively modest wins there were not enough to overcome Trump’s state dominance outside of those metropolitan centers. No one can show or prove that the largely urban minority populations of Detroit, Philadelphia, and Miami were demotivated to go vote for Hillary because of Wikileaks. This is because that demotivation was not instigated by the Russians but by the relatively uninspiring and indifferent attitude of the Clinton campaign. It was so confident it was going to easily capture these areas, based on the resounding victories of Obama beforehand, that it basically just bypassed them on the campaign trail again and again. This clearly proved to be a huge mistake but it had nothing at all to do with Russians engineering a Trump presidency. Thus in some ways Russian hacking is now being used to cover over fundamental strategic missteps in the Democratic campaign.

3.The overall poor turnout on both sides of the electorate places blame in other places

While Trump did indeed command a healthy electoral college victory, he did in fact lose the popular vote. This enrages many progressives (even though they went through this exact scenario 16 years ago, when Gore lost a much closer electoral college race, but won the overall popular vote against Bush) and allows them to not pay as much attention to the eternal vexation of American politics: that a mature and stable democracy seems to never motivate its voting population to participate beyond 50%. So, taking half of half, as it were, means once again America is putting into the Oval Office a person who was explicitly affirmed by barely 25% of the public. This undermines the accusation that any Russian hacking campaign was crucially impactful in the election results: it needs to be shown that the hacks either inspired Trump voters to go out or depressed Clinton voters from showing up. In real terms, as in recent Presidential elections, the electorate overall stayed remarkably and uninspiringly consistent in terms of poor participation. Thus, it is legitimate to argue Russian hacking had relatively little influence.

4.The disagreement now emerging from within the American Intelligence Community about what it all means still misses a basic point of fact

The CIA has been the agency within US Intelligence (there are 17 overall within the American system) that has spear-headed both the analysis of the alleged Russian hacking and the conclusions to be made from it. CIA analysts have continuously stated the ‘evidence’ leading back to Russian-based hacking efforts is overwhelming. While Trump still somewhat clumsily misplays this fact by trying to stubbornly deny any such evidence at all, people need to realize that the more important question is not one of process but intent. Amazingly, it seems significant players within the US Intelligence Community are starting to unknowingly or begrudgingly agree with Trump.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has maintained that the main problem in the hacking analysis is that no one has the ability to peer into the mindset of the actual actors who did the hacking. Therefore, the ability to know the true intent of the hacking is impossible to ascertain. The FBI, which usually conducts its analyses based on the higher threshold of building an actual legal case before an American court, has first agreed with the ODNI but then, receiving some criticism, has said it agrees with the overall conclusion of the CIA. This will get a lot of new press in the West but it won’t hide the fact that the FBI would NOT want to go to court with what the CIA has shown so far as ‘proof of electoral results tampering.’

There is a huge difference between being co-conspirators to undermine the institutions of American democracy and engineer an illegitimate result and simply wanting to embarrass the candidate who has spent half a dozen years publicly proclaiming anti-Russian policies and sentiments (something Hillary has done with ample media evidence to prove it). Given the shock of most media outlets during election night it is hard to imagine Russian sources were more in tune with the pulse of the American people. Which means they thought Hillary was going to win just like everybody else. Which means the hacking, if anything, was not about electing Trump pre-election but embarrassing Clinton post-election. And while that is still certainly unsavory it also does not add up to anything more than what every politically-motivated campaign ad was trying to do to each candidate all throughout the election campaign for two years.

Unfortunately, the present media circus surrounding the hacking scandal has dripped into the true corridors of power within Washington, as both the Senate and House of Representatives are demanding deeper investigations. But these investigations are going to do nothing but reveal the very astute and important divergence presently separating the US Intelligence Community: no one is ever going to be able to ‘prove’ in a legal sense that Russia explicitly compromised the American presidential election. What it did was largely akin to very powerful and well-financed PAC (political action committee) campaigns fueling anti-Clinton rumors and disinformation. But that reality is something that epitomizes nearly every election campaign at every level within America today. Just look at the recent fervor to root out ‘fake news.’ For those who analyze foreign policy closely, it is not surprising that Russia would prefer a President Trump over a President Clinton. But that does not mean the Trump Presidency now exists solely or exclusively because of Russian interference. It doesn’t. And progressives need to realize this manufactured bogeyman is not going to help them move forward as a party or strategize better in future elections.

Dr. Matthew Crosston is Executive Vice Chairman of ModernDiplomacy.eu and chief analytical strategist of I3, a strategic intelligence consulting company. All inquiries regarding speaking engagements and consulting needs can be referred to his website: https://profmatthewcrosston.academia.edu/

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New strategy of U.S. counter-intelligence: Real and unreal threats

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The newly published US Counter-Intelligence Strategy for 2020-2022 puts Russia and China at the top of the list of countries that pose a threat to the USA. “Russia and China are operating throughout the world, using all power instruments at their disposal against the United States, resorting to a wide variety of modern intelligence methods”, – the document says.

The strategy formulates five objectives for the counter-intelligence service: to protect the critically important infrastructure, cut the number of threats to basic supply chains, counteract the exploitation of American economy, defend the American democracy against foreign influence, and repulse cyberattacks and technological disruptions that could come from foreign intelligence.

The US has made public only a brief 11-page version of the strategy, whereas its full, classified variant will be submitted to members of intelligence committees in the House of Representatives and the Senate, to White House officials, heads of corresponding agencies and other officials with access to classified information. The mere list of goals for counter-intelligence gives rise to questions such as whether they are fully grounded or whether they are all but tribute to the current political trends in the USA.

As we read «protect the American democracy against foreign influence» we understand what they mean by ‘foreign’ – both Democrats and Republicans keep talking about Russian interference in American elections. Although this talk has long been dismissed by many as inconsistent with reality, it nevertheless, continues unabated.

The strategy, published on the website of the US National Counter-Intelligence and Security Center, is a renewed version of the 2015 document. The Center’s Director, William Ivanina, said as he presented the report that modern technology – artificial intelligence, encryption technology, internet of things – make the work of counter-intelligence more complicated. According to CBS, W. Ivanina has been saying since 2014 that China poses the most serious long-term threat to US security. In his words, the theft of American intellectual property, allegedly committed by the Chinese, cost the US 400 billion dollars annually.

Statements about stealing intellectual property are not new and are being exploited by the Americans to justify a trade war they are waging against China. It is not for the first time that the Trump administration is resorting to “banned methods” adding the country’s economic problems to the list of national security threats, which makes it possible to introduce restrictive measures against China.

The strategy in question is seeing light just as the debates on a new American budget are getting under way. This is not accidental given that documents of this kind can justify budgetary spending. In 2021 the US government is planning to spend $1.5 billion to counter “China’s influence” and another $596 million to establish “diplomatic cooperation for securing the strategy in regions of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. A statement to this effect is part of the press release circulated by the US State Department and published after the White House submitted to the Congress a draft budget for the next fiscal year.

However, proposals on the budget, though reflecting the position of the US administration, do not always become law. In most cases, the US Congress approves the budget depending on the political situation at home. Now that they have sustained defeat on Trump’s impeachment, the Democrats have a good chance to take it out on the budget. Democratic minority leader in the Senate Chuck Schumer has described the draft budget submitted by the incumbent administration for the next year as “a plan to destroy America”.

Considering that these are all but domestic political games, it is not immediately clear what Russia and China have to do with them.

From our partner International Affairs

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Modi’s extremism: Implications for South Asia

Sonia Naz

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Hindutva is a main form of Hindu nationalism in India this term was popularized by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in the 20th century. It is reinforced by the Hindu extremist volunteer organization Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and Hindu Sena. Hindutva movement has been expressed today as almost fascist in the classical sense (sticking to a disputed idea of homogenized majority and dominance of culture).  The Hindutva moment has gained enormous momentum under the government of Modi (Zaman A. , 2019). Under the Modi’s government dozens of Muslims have been killed for the protection of cows. Most of them are those who allegedly slaughtering cows. These attacks indicate that Hindu extremism has increased. Even, lower caste Hindus also faced violence from hardliner Hindu extremists. (Zaman A. , 2019) .

The prevailing extremism in India is no longer a national issue, but is spilling over to become a regional flashpoint and has worldwide implications. The regional stability is endangered due to the current situation in Indian-occupied Kashmir (IoK) (Qureshi, 2019). Since the Modi’s extremist policies revoked article 370 of the constitution of India in which special and independent status had been given to the Indian-occupied Kashmir (IoK). This kind of extreme move of a fanatical ruler was expected, whereas, such kind of unconstitutional effort of a democratic government was not expected. Moreover, it is not only a violation of India’s constitution, but it is also a breach of United Nations Security Council Resolutions, which confirmed Kashmir as a disputed territory.

Furthermore, Article 370 and 35-A cancellation changed the demographic structure of IoK. Article 35A prevented the outsiders from staying, buying properties, getting local government jobs or scholarships in IoK than it annulment permitted outsiders to buy properties there.  Hindutva forces are trying to conquer the IoK territory with its 800000 military crowd, which is making the situation more instable there. It would not have lasting consequences for India, but for the whole region (Jaspal, 2019). The Kashmir imbroglio should be the concern of the entire world because it is a perilous flashpoint that could lead to a catastrophic war between two nuclear powers. If this happens, it would not engulf the region, but the entire world. The International community is insensitive towards the recent brutal developments have taken place in IoK. The brutalities boldly committed by the more than 500,000 Indian troops in the occupied valley. There should be a strong response of big powers and the international community towards the atrocious changes in India (Elahi, 2019). 

It is not the first time, Narendra Modi’s administration has involved in many disputes with the regional countries which has put the regional security at risk. Like, the Modi government relationship is not just deteriorated with Pakistan, but other neighbouring states too. In 2015, Madhesi Crisis in Nepal and border issues tensed the India Nepal relations. However, India restricted the flow of trade at the check posts whereas; India did not accept this blame. India also has not good relation with Sri Lanka since 2014 as Sri Lanka has been more disposed towards China with the signing of the infrastructure projects of belt road and initiatives. Moreover, New Dehli was concerned about the harbouring of Chinese submarines in Colombo and ruler of Maldives Abdulla Yameen signed fee trade treaties with China, which was not digestible for India (Wong, 2017).

India’s offensive nuclear posture towards Pakistan and increased violation of the Line of Control (LoC) has made the situation more adverse. India holds Pakistan responsible for every attack on its territory and its attitude towards Pakistan is very hostile. The Pathankot attack in 2016 and Pulwama attack in 2019 increased the resentment as Modi government blamed the attack on Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Muhammad. Pakistan asked India to provide evidence so that Pakistan can take action, but no evidence had been given. The Indian air force claimed launching air strikes on the camp of Jaish-e Mohammad mountainside in the Balakot region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa . While, following the attack international media and local media disgraced Indian claim of launching the attack and killing many militants. Next morning, Pakistan shot down an Indian MIG 21 fighter and captured the pilot who violated the Pakistan airspace. Still, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan showed peace gesture and released the captured pilot.  (Shoukat, 2019).

The Indian airstrike’s that were launched in response to Pulwama attack were clear a breach of Pakistan’s space sovereignty. It was a clear perspective of war, however; India has continued to justify its position by calling it non-military strike. It was extremely reckless behaviour of a nuclear state. Even, history shows that such events are very rare between nuclear weapons states while the US and Russia never engaged in direct airstrike’s (Jan, 2019). Afterward, an Indian submarine also detained by the Pakistani Navy, which tried to infringe Pakistani water.  India blames Pakistan for every attack and defies the Pakistan air, space and land territory itself. Besides, India is also responsible of sponsoring terrorism in Pakistan through its spies as one of them is Kulbushan Yadav (Shoukat, 2019).

 India’s nuclear doctrine also changed from No First Use (NFU) to First use. The false description of surgical strikes and attacks on non-state base points has demonstrated the uncertain security environment in South Asia.  The Indian nuclear doctrinal change increases the security risks in the region, particularly for Pakistan and China. At Pulwama, Pakistan clearly exposed India’s long-held fable of conventional superiority. At the same time, it is obvious that India would keep its behaviour hawkish towards Pakistan under the radical Hindutva mindset (Nawaz, 2019).

Additionally, India took another major step against the Muslims as it passed a bill on December 9, 2019 that would give the nationality to those migrants who want to become citizens of India except Muslims. This step of Prime Minster would increase the Modi Hindu-nationalist agenda. It would modify the India secular status, preserve by its founders in 1947. The Citizenship Amendment Bill passed by the lower house, the Lok Sabha with 311 votes. Now, it would be presented in the upper house and would become law soon. Hindu extremist agenda deeply unsettled the Muslims with this new law as they would make more than 200 million Muslims second class citizens and many of them stateless. It is not first extremist step of Modi, he also stripped away the autonomy of Kashmir, which was Muslim majority Indian occupied state.

 Furthermore, Hindu fundamentalist build a new temple over the remains of the demolished mosque in the Ayodhya. According to Modi this would protect the maltreated Hindus, Christians and Buddhists who want to migrate from Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, this brutal legislation would extradite innocent Muslim residents, even those whose families have been in India for generation, if they cannot provide evidence of citizenship. Under the Modi’s leadership, attacks and intimidation against Muslim community have augmented and anti Muslim sentiment has become deliberately more mainstream. The people of Assam are protesting in the streets and hoisting placards again the bill because it is against their rights and identity (Gettleman & Raj, 2019).

Besides, Bangladeshi Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen cancelled his visit for two days Indian Ocean Dialogue and Delhi Dialogue XI, to India. He also rejected a statement by Indian home minister Amit Shah that the new citizenship law will provide safety to “persecuted minorities” from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.  An official visit to India by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has also been delayed due to the unrest in Assam. Following the protests began in Assam, a curfew was forced in four of the main cities in the state and the internet was shut down. Two paramilitary battalions were deployed to contain the demonstrations. (News, 2019).

In a nutshell, as evident from the aforementioned  brutal developments, it seems that India aspires to increasingly showcase itself  hegemon and potential big power in the region. The Prime Minister Modi government is impressed by the Hindu extremist ideology and making IoK its integral part by forcefully. Its hawkish policies towards Muslims in India and IoK has once again put at stake the peace and stability of the entire region of South Asia. Indian government not only targeting Muslims everywhere, but it is also seizing their identities which is dismantling secularism foundations of India. Moreover, Indian hawkish nuclear posture increases arms race in the region and it is not only threat for Pakistan but the entire region.

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Emerging Cyber warfare threats to Pakistan

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The potential for the next Pearl Harbor could very well be a cyber-attack.” -Leon Panetta

In the modern era, war has been revolutionized due to rapid advancements in technology. As a result, cyber security along with its pros and cons is contributing increasingly to modern warfare. Pakistan, however, is still in the developmental phase of cyber security. Although Pakistan has passed its first law related to cyber-crimes, in the form of the 2016 Prevention of Electronic Crime Act, the overall legislation related to cyber security is still vague and not as strong to deal with the dynamic and broad-ranging nature of threats that emanate from the realms of cyber security.

In recent years, the government has taken some initiatives in order to build capacity amongst the general public such as through PAK-CERT, Presidential Initiative for Artificial Intelligence & Computing (PIAIC), Skills for all Hunarmand Pakistan, Kamyab Jawan, and National Vocational & Technical Training (NAVTTC).Yet, as has been the case for quite some time, most of these initiatives are aimed simply at spreading greater awareness to help lay the foundations for a more robust cyber security architecture. Amidst such developments, the question that arises for Pakistani policymakers is thus where their country currently stands in the cyber domain and how cyber warfare is posing threats to its national security.

In this era of innovation and connectivity even major powers such as the U.S, Russia, China, Israel and the United Kingdom remain vulnerable to an evolving spectrum of cyber threats. Across the world, states are now increasingly dependent on cyber technology which has greatly increased their chances of vulnerability. The most known example is 2015 Stuxnet virus, whereby a devastating cyber-attack on Iranian nuclear facilities wreaked havoc such as at the Nantaz Nuclear facility, significantly rolling back the Iranian nuclear program. Similarly, the WannaCry outbreak in 2017 caused mass disruption by shutting down vital computing systems in more than 80 NHS organizations in England alone. This resulted in almost 20,000 cancelled appointments, 600 GP surgeries having to return to pen and paper, and five hospitals simply diverting ambulances, unable to handle any more emergency cases. Widely attributed as being state sponsored, the attack set another devastating precedent testifying to the wide-ranging vulnerabilities that exist even in some of the world’s most advanced countries. 

Pakistan’s cyber space too is insecure for many reasons because Pakistan is dependent on others for technology. According to leading global cyber security firms such as Symantec, Pakistan is among the ten most targeted countries in the world. Main targets include Pakistan’s nuclear and other critical installations, with publicly revealed assaults on an assortment of media houses, as well as the communications networks, of key government departments including, transport and, basic utilities. Such threats for instance were further confirmed by the Snowden documents released between 2013-2014 that had showed how the NSA was keeping an eye on Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders, utilizing a malware called SECONDATE.

Recently in the year 2019, Rising Security Research Institute has captured the attack launched by the internationally renowned Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) organization “Rattlesnake” through the Rising Threat Intelligence System. This time, the organization had targeted the Pakistani Navy via Target collision hijacking method. Specifically targeting the Pakistan Naval Public Relations Bureau, the attempt was aimed at stealing vital information from secure military networks while planting misleading documents masquerading as official statements from the Pakistan Navy regarding its regional neighbors such as China and India.  Based on such threats, Pakistan must be readily prepared for any kind of cyber espionage and take steps towards establishing a strong national cyber policy to protect its civilian and military infrastructure.

Therefore, at this stage it is imperative that Pakistan seriously focus on the development of a robust cyber war apparatus. This would especially help mitigate the numerous threats being posed to its banking system, as well as major government networks such as its ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as other military networks that have been previously targeted such as in the case shown above. As such Pakistan can take a number of initial steps by developing strategies to prevent malwares and denial of service (DOS) attacks to reduce such threats at least to a certain level.

Yet, Pakistan has still not developed a cohesive Cyber Command or any National Cyber Policy to deal with the regional cyber threats being posed to Pakistan. Even though Pakistan has recently developed a cyber-security auditing and evaluation lab, it is still in its formative stages. There is still immense space to develop advanced tools and research technologies to protect Pakistan’s cyberspace, sensitive data, and local economy from cyber-attacks while restricting illegal penetrations in it. Especially such as the initiative taken by the newly setup National Centre for Cyber Security which aims increase the number of indigenously trained cyber security professionals within the public sector.

Keeping to this trajectory Pakistan should emphasize more on indigenously developing its own cyber security industry so that in the near future it could benefit both its civilian and military infrastructure in the long run. Hence, while Pakistan may be limited in its ability to wage a strong offensive campaign within the realm of cyber warfare at the moment, such steps would go a long way in helping lay the foundations to build something greater on.

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