The Obama administration’s move against U.S. election systems has been one long bait-and-switch, and has had all the subtlety of a steam calliope – to invoke a vivid comparison I’ve long remembered from a George Will column many years ago (on another topic).
But the media have been next to useless in making it clear that a move against U.S. election systems is what’s been going on. Everything has happened in plain sight. But the media have made little or nothing of the actionable, significant events.
They have focused instead on nonsense like whether Putin and Trump are sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G. That’s what they’ve got all the talking heads babbling about. Naturally, that focus is meant to sow emotional, drive-by doubt about Trump, and befoul his presidency before it starts. But if it did only that, it would be weak sauce, for starters – there’s nothing to the implied narrative; no place to go with it – and would not yield a good return on the investment of political capital.
What DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson did today – Friday, 6 January – definitely will yield such a return, assuming it stands.
The big move
Immediately after the new national intelligence report came out, Johnson designated America’s election systems as “critical infrastructure,” requiring oversight and security protection from the Department of Homeland Security. Johnson has been talking about doing this since August 2016. And although he doesn’t appear to have directly invoked the DNI report on Russian influence operations, the timing is certainly obvious, and the move predictable. It would take a stupid person to actually buy any claim that Johnson’s move was unrelated to the DNI report.
The problem, of course, is that the DNI report didn’t establish the slightest connection between Russian influence operations, Russian cyber operations, and the outcome of the November 2016 election. The report acknowledges that explicitly – as DNI James Clapper did in testimony to Congress this past week. (As I have highlighted repeatedly, Russia’s “cyber war” against the election, to the extent there was one, consisted of hacking the DNC email system. That’s the DNI narrative, reduced to its bare facts.)
So parse this. Russia tried to influence the U.S. election. But no action of Russia or Russian agents affected U.S. election systems. Nevertheless, Jeh Johnson decided, the same day the intel report on the Russian effort came out, to designate U.S. election systems “critical infrastructure,” thus ensuring that a federal bureaucracy will have intrusive, detailed oversight of all of them.
The DNI’s findings certainly don’t justify taking that step. What they do is give the “critical infrastructure” takeover cover – as long as you don’t actually examine the facts, and instead let yourself be persuaded that a nebulous episode of Russian interference was enough like “Russian hacking of the election” to justify pretending that a hacked election is a big problem.
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