Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Please Get Your Russia Conspiracies Straight

Another public hacking episode is in the news this week, and naturally, Russia is being blamed for it.

Not that there appears to be much evidence as of yet that Russia is truly responsible. And such evidence is unlikely to be found, even if they did do it. Hacking cases are notoriously difficult if not impossible to definitively attribute. And attribution becomes even more unlikely if you're assuming the hackers have the effectively unlimited resources of a nation-state to fund very sophisticated attacks.

This all leads to a kind of Catch 22. Either Russia's state hacking apparatus is extraordinarily formidable and advanced--in which case, their culpability is not likely to be proved. Or, they are incompetent fools who can't even cover their own tracks--in which case, how much of a threat could they really be? Which one is it?

Sadly, that's not the only cognitive dissonance going on here.

The target of the latest purported "Russia" hacks was two state voter registration systems. This fits well with the useful campaign narrative that Putin is trying to manipulate the election to favor Donald Trump. But a moment's thought reveals that this story has contradictions of its own. On the one hand, we are told that we must fear the recklessness of Donald Trump and be appalled at the idea he would have control of nuclear weapons. But on the other hand, the reckless Donald Trump is also allegedly a "puppet" of Vladimir Putin, the leader of the other nuclear country that the US is most likely to exchange nuclear weapons with. How do we possibly reconcile this?

To believe both of those ideas simultaneously is to believe that Russia is trying to manipulate the elections in Donald Trump's favor, so that once elected, Donald Trump will start a nuclear war against Russia. Sure, no one ever says it like that. But if you believed both narratives that the Clinton campaign advances, that's where you end up. Hopefully, you don't need me to tell you that is crazy.

Thus, we have a humble suggestion. If you're going to demonize Russia, ideally try to use some actual facts. But if you can't muster that, at least get your conspiracy theories straight. It would save the rest of us a lot of needless frustration.

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