Oxford's oldest student newspaper

Independent since 1920

The Devil’s Advocate: hack! the herald angels sing

Gavin Flemming argues that Russian hacking is par for the course in the brutal world of geopolitics

It is that time of year. The nights have drawn long. In the morning, the blades of grass are coated in the crystalline frost of the bleak midwinter. A crepuscular veil has been drawn across these Islands, covering us all in that frightful and yet so delightful weather of wintertime. But at the centre of this stygian season, is that day to which we all look forward to throughout the year. That holy and wholesome day. That day when hearts and minds are opened, when right triumphs over wrong, and when all mankind is overcome with love of neighbour. I’m very glad, therefore, that the joyous day has passed over us, and the Twelve Days are well into their stride, because it will take a damn good dollop of Christmas cheer to patch up the latest frosty fissure to open between the US and Russia. I speak of course about the alleged involvement of the Russian state in manipulating the outcome of the US presidential election. Uncle Sam must have been a terribly naughty boy this to deserve that lump of coal in his stocking…

On Friday 9 December it was announced that the United States’ intelligence agencies had uncovered proof of Russian involvement in the November election. Reports said this comprised of Russian hacks on entities and players key to the presidential race. The DNC, the Clinton Campaign, and a series of personal Gmail accounts were all noted as victims of these cyber-attacks. It is believed that the orders for these virtual incursions were issued by the leaders of the Russian Federation themselves. To what end? Why to influence the decision of the American public in electing their new President. Chilling news for a chilling season. Naturally, the Kremlin has denied all allegations. Those chaps are nothing if not consistent.

But there was fury, and fear too, in the US. So much so that the outgoing President felt the need to affirm the strength of the American democracy, and its durability against these cyber-assaults. However, I think, in listening to his comments, that his words belied a deep unease and an uncomfortable chagrin that the “sanctity” of US security had been violated. There was a palpable, and instinctual, sense of “how dare they!” in the response of Obama, the CIA, and many Americans to the news. This was not the seasonal surprise they were used to.

Nonetheless, I find the astonishment with which some have greeted this news to be indicative of the most infantile naivety. Indignation at the discovery is something I feel they are entirely justified in holding. But shock? Certainly not. For one thing, as President Obama himself pointed out, the media had made the whole sordid affair of Russian involvement in the US election one of the major points of contest during the race. Why, it might be asked, are we acting so stunned when confronted with old news? Might it not be a delayed adverse reaction to the victory of Putin’s pick: Donald Trump?

But more significantly, let’s consider the matter with some pragmatism. The fact is this: America served the Eastern Bear this sumptuous repast—sickly-sweet Clinton and sorely-sour Trump—on a silver platter. I mean, what on Earth did they expect Russia to do? This is a country against which the Obama Administration and the Clinton Campaign had been railing for years, carefully cultivating a frigid animosity towards it. A superpower, with the means and the motive; why would they not try to influence another country’s election? If they could achieve a result more favourable for themselves by the process of hacking, then why not do it? Prior to November, America’s divisionism saw it lose much of the dignity once paid to it the world over. Its mask of strength slipped from its face, and through the fractures of imperfect disunion one could see the underlying weaknesses. There’s only one way to treat weakness: exploit it. The Russians, masters of Realpolitik, saw an opportunity to do so this year, and by God they took it.

As I said, of course America is entitled to be angry at this shameful infringement of cyber sovereignty. But it is the shared, self-reflective anger which one feels when they goad a dog into biting them (except, in this case it was a bear… with rabies, and very sharp teeth). Speaking frankly, the affronted party ought to have realised by now the truth in the old adage: “It takes two to tango.” Clinton’s hawkish rhetoric toward the Russian state set the two on a collision course from day one. That Putin and his pawns might have acquired information and, with Teflon tongues, let it slip into the ears of those who would use it to promote Trump over Clinton might ignite rage. It cannot, however, reasonably arouse shock. To be quite honest, I fail to see why this matter is even news—there is nothing “new” about it. The whole incident is akin to a drunkard in a dodgy pub, slandering one of the less gentil patrons, and receiving a thorough thrashing because of it. We might not condone the response, but let’s be clear, we all saw it coming.

That being said, the discovery of Russian hacking should be a warning to all of us—and not just to our American cousins across the pond—that our world is one of nosey neighbours. Neighbours, who will seek to stir the pot, and prod their noses where they don’t belong. The recent “revelations” (though, as stipulated, I think this far too strong a word for them) are a wake-up call, an alarm which we have too often pressed “snooze” to. No more. Let this be a reminder that what ought to matter most to the state is its safety, its security—above all its sovereignty. In this world of conflict and competition, all countries, in some way or another, will jostle to defend their own and to impinge upon that of others. That’s why Putin’s influence on US politics, though disturbing, is not discombobulating. But perhaps there, I’m being too cynical. I mean, it’s not like the US has ever interfered in the politics of another country. Oh, wait…

Support student journalism

Student journalism does not come cheap. Now, more than ever, we need your support.

Check out our other content

Most Popular Articles