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Why Retaliation Against Russia is Counter Productive

A traditional Russian Matryoshka wooden doll depicting US President Barack Obama, second from right, Russian President, Vladimir Putin, center, U.S. President George W. Bush, second from left, and Leader of the Soviet Union from the mid-1920s until 1953 Joseph Stalin, left, and right, on a display in Tallinn, Estonia, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014 (AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis)

The Biggest Cyber Attack in U.S. History

In 2014, a massive aggressive hacking campaign against the United States gathered extensive personal information on more than 22 million members of the military, intelligence community, and high level U.S. government personnel.

The Washington Post reports: “beyond the rising number of apparent victims, U.S. officials said the breaches rank among the most potentially damaging cyber heists in U.S. government history because of the abundant detail in the files…. Also exposed were 1.1 million sets of fingerprints, detailed financial and health records, and computer usernames and passwords that applicants used to fill out their security-clearance forms online.” (Source: Washington Post, 9 July 2015)

After this attack, there was very little media coverage and very little public discussion. There was no meaningful retaliation.

Recently, Russia has been accused of influencing the 2016 U.S. election by exposing corruption in the DNC. Some in the intelligence community are equating this to an act of war and saying we should strike back very forcefully in a way that will hurt Russia and the Russian people. There has been and will continue to be extensive news coverage and multiple hearings as well as investigations into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election.

We must impress upon our government representatives the importance of NOT escalating a conflict with Russia.

For context, here’s the Washington Post coverage of the biggest cyber attack in U.S. history.

Latest News and Intelligence Information

The following Senate hearing video from 5 January 2017 provides the most up-to-date and comprehensive intelligence information provided by the top ranking members of the military and intelligence community. The video is 3 hours and 23 minutes long.


There’s been a significant amount of news coverage, intelligence gathering, and diplomatic retaliation as a result of perceived Russian influence in the 2016 U.S. election. The claim is that Russia provided Wikileaks with internal DNC emails. The following document will address this claim. In summary:

  • Julian Assange of Wikileaks has repeatedly stated that their source was not Russia or any state sponsored hacking effort. In an interview on the Dutch television program Nieuwsuur, Assange seemed to imply that DNC employee Seth Rich was the Wikileaks source. At this point, Julian Assange is considered by some to be an ‘enemy of the state’ similar to Edward Snowden.
  • If we were to disregard the testimony of Julian Assange, and simply go on other gathered intelligence data, retaliation against Russia is still poor diplomacy for the reasons provided below.
  • The leaked DNC emails revealed, among other things, that the DNC and national news media had colluded to manipulate public opinion and manipulate the democratic process. The DNC, not the Russians, were shown to undemocratically influence the election. Yet no sanctions have been taken against the DNC.
  • On 5 January 2017, in a Senate hearing on cybersecurity, U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan confirmed that the Chinese hacked 22 million files on members of the U.S. government, military, and intelligence community. That action endangered the lives of U.S. citizens. There was no retaliation for that act. In defense of taking no action against China, James Clapper, Director of National  Intelligence, stated, “We and other nations conduct acts of espionage.” He went on to defend espionage and say that there should be no retaliation for it. His point was that espionage for purposes of information gathering is okay, but hacking for the purposes of harming a country is not okay.
  • On 31 December 2016, the Washington Post claimed that Russia had hacked into the U.S. power grid. That story was soon proven to be false — another example of news media creating fake stories helpful to the DNC to manipulate public opinion.

Numerous ‘Hacking’ Attempts Happen Daily

Foreign-based hacking attempts happen daily as can be seen by real-time cyber attack analysis maps such as the one shown here from Norse Corp. [View] This fact is repeatedly confirmed by those in the intelligence community, including those who spoke at the 5 January 2017 Senate hearing above. That isn’t to suggest that the attacks aren’t serious. It’s simply to point out that ignoring thousands of attacks and singling out an incident presumed to originate from Russia seems imbalanced.

Retaliating Creates Greater Risk

In general, when hacking is concerned, we shouldn’t ‘retaliate’ against Russia or any other country because that would acknowledge successful attacks which would reveal our weaknesses and put the nation in further risk and danger. An acknowledgement also rewards and inspires hackers by giving them the recognition they are seeking.

Retaliating is Misguided

Retaliation is misguided because the individuals actually involved are not easy to positively identify and track down. Just because the origin of an attack comes from within a certain country doesn’t mean it’s a government sponsored operation. In some cases, people from one country will take over computers in another country to mask the real country of origin. If it’s the case that a trail of evidence was left that points to a specific country, that may be false evidence left to implicate someone else.

Negative Outcomes of Retaliation

Even if there were a government sponsored operation, we shouldn’t retaliate in a way that broadly harms all citizens of another country. That would hinder diplomatic progress and harm positive relationships between the citizens of our countries. Members of the military and intelligence communities talk about surgical strikes that focus only on certain targets. However, the diplomatic and social repercussions of stirring up fear and suspicion of another country cannot be contained.

Red Scare Propaganda is Politically Motivated

Keep in mind that the 1950s style McCarthyist Red Scare Propaganda was recently reintroduced during the 2016 U.S. election when people were looking for scape goats to blame that would divert people’s attention away from the Democrat power elites who had been undemocratically influencing the election process during the Primaries and through the election. In addition to being a convenient excuse for why the Democrats were losing (“The Russians are helping Trump win!”), it was also seen as a strategy to scare Republicans and others into not supporting Trump (“Trump is a commie!”).

Domestic Election Manipulation is Greater Problem

There are people within the United States who did much worse to manipulate the election and had much greater negative impact than anything the Russians could have done. Some of these people were fired over what they’d done. One must wonder why only Russia is being presumed to have had political influence, when numerous other countries undoubtedly had influence over the election as well. Why are sanctions only against Russia and not the U.S. citizens who impeded the democratic election process.

News Claims About Russian Hacking Proven False

On Friday, December 30, the Washington Post ran a headline story declaring that the Russians had hacked into the United States power grid. The story was false, and the computer they claimed had been hacked by the Russians was embarrassingly not even connected to the Internet.

Forbes reported on the incident two days later:

On Friday the Washington Post sparked a wave of fear when it ran the breathless headline “Russian hackers penetrated U.S. electricity grid through a utility in Vermont, U.S. officials say.” … Yet, it turns out this narrative was false. (Forbes, 1 January 2017)

This latest claim of Russian hacking is part of an ongoing fearful bigoted narrative that breads suspicion about Russians rather than fostering good diplomacy with Russia and promoting global citizenship.

Dangerous Political Posturing and Retaliation

The effort to create a believable story about Russians hacking the U.S. elections is so strong that President Barack Obama initiated deportation of 35 Russian diplomats and their families over the holidays. Putin has stated that Russia will not retaliate, nor be brought into the name calling and mud throwing contest.

If it’s true that Russia operated as a whistle blower by helping leak news about election fraud and media collusion, that’s much more tame than what what the United States has done through military invasions for the purpose of self-serving regime changes.

Julian Assange – Russia Not Involved

All of the above speculation presumes that the Wikileaks information about the DNC and the Hillary Clinton campaign was obtained from Russian hackers. According to a January 2017 interview with Julian Assange, the Russians were not the source and it was not the result of a state sponsored attack.

Julian Assange Names Wikileaks Source

Below, Julian Assange seems to suggest on Dutch television program Nieuwsuur that Seth Rich was the source for the Wikileaks-exposed DNC emails and was murdered.

Trump and Putin – Memes and Cartoons

Fears about ‘the Russians’ began months prior to any concern over hacking. Among those who didn’t want Trump to win, there was a concerted to prove that Trump and Putin were working together, or that Trump was a puppet of Putin. Below are some social media images that intended to make this connection. It’s against this backdrop that the Russian hacking stories are being inflated. Click any image for a larger gallery view.

Director of National Intelligence – 7 Oct 2016

One of the key documents substantiating the Russian involvement and influence in the U.S. election is from the Director of National Intelligence. That letter, dated 7 October 2016, does not offer any specific evidence or proof to tie the Russians to recent hacking.

The letter begins with this accusation:

“The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations.”

Yet elsewhere the letter states:

“However, we are not now in a position to attribute this activity to the Russian Government.”

The only ‘proof’ offered are claims such as:

“The recent disclosures … are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts.”

“…the Russians have used similar tactics and techniques across Europe and Eurasia, for example, to influence public opinion there. We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.”

Are Russian ‘methods’ of cyber attack unique? No. Hackers use similar methods regardless of what country they are from. How can one psychically presume to know the Russian motivations as stated in the report?

Accusing an entire nation without having any evidence or due process is irresponsible — based solely on an observation that ‘methods’ are perceived to be unique to that country.

Elsewhere the letter states the following:

“The USIC and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) assess that it would be extremely difficult for someone, including a nation-state actor, to alter actual ballot counts or election results by cyber attack or intrusion.”

So, other than ‘trying to manipulate public opinion’ the intelligence community acknowledges that it’s not possible to influence the U.S. election system.

CIA Director Woodruff – 3 Jan 2017

In a 3 January 2017 interview on PBS News Hour, CIA director John Brennan acknowledges that numerous countries are targeting the United States through cyber activities.

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By Greg Johnson

Greg Johnson is a freelance writer and tech consultant in Iowa City. He is also the founder and Director of the ResourcesForLife.com website. Learn more at AboutGregJohnson.com

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