Belmont Club

Why Does Putin Own Everything?

The trending meme of the last 48 hours is whether, as Cher charmingly put it, Trump is a “f—ing traitor”  The reasons for the accusation sound plausible enough.  Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post warns that Vladimir Putin is hijacking the U.S. presidential election and Donald Trump may be his agent.

There is ample circumstantial evidence that Russia is interfering in the U.S. presidential election in order to boost Donald Trump, who not only displays reverence for Russian President Vladimir Putin but also has advocated policies that would pay big dividends for Moscow (e.g. backing away from NATO, letting Russia and Iran have their ways in Syria, ending defensive arms to Ukraine).

Numerous news reports citing cyber experts say there are telltale signs of Russia’s involvement in the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails and the all-too-convenient leak at the onset of the Democrats’ convention.

The Trump campaign has an astonishing number of connections to Russia, as many analysts have discovered.

The New York Times adds that “Donald J. Trump said Wednesday that he hoped Russia had hacked Hillary Clinton’s email, essentially encouraging an adversarial foreign power to cyberspy on a secretary of state’s correspondence.”

“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Mr. Trump said, staring directly into the cameras during a news conference. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

Mr. Trump’s call was an extraordinary moment at a time when Russia is being accused of meddling in the United States’ presidential election. His comments came amid questions about the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s computer servers, which American intelligence agencies have told the White House they have “high confidence” was the work of the Russian government.

Bruce Schneier, a noted cybersecurity expert, warns that by November Russia could own the computerized voting systems. He writes that “if Putin’s government has already used a cyberattack to attempt to help Trump win, there’s no reason to believe he won’t do it again — especially now that Trump is inviting the ‘help.'”

Over the years, more and more states have moved to electronic voting machines and have flirted with Internet voting. These systems are insecure and vulnerable to attack.

But while computer security experts like me have sounded the alarm for many years, states have largely ignored the threat, and the machine manufacturers have thrown up enough obfuscating babble that election officials are largely mollified.

We no longer have time for that. We must ignore the machine manufacturers’ spurious claims of security, create tiger teams to test the machines’ and systems’ resistance to attack, drastically increase their cyber-defenses and take them offline if we can’t guarantee their security online.

Serious stuff, yet the absurdity of the situation is patent. One contradiction was pithily summarized by Jim Geraghty on Twitter. “1) There was nothing secret in HRC’s 30K deleted e-mails. 2) It’s a “national security issue” if Russia gets them. Pick one, Hillary camp.” Another wag observed that nothing could be amiss with Trump’s call to release Hillary’s emails since after all, Hillary had called for their release immediately after the investigation into her homebrew email began.

Bring back, bring back, O bring back my emails to me.

Putin is the enemy and must be expected to do what enemies do. But why is America so defenseless against Russia? If everything the press is saying is true, how come Putin owns Trump, emails, voting systems, the whole shebang?  How can a second-rate, economically declining power pull the strings of mighty America, the country that virtually created computer science? How does an administration 8 years in power suddenly wake up to find that the two leading candidates for the 2016 election are really Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen?

The partial answer is the situation has been creeping up for some time, maybe even since the days of Joe McCarthy. The OPM hack, Russia’s sudden descent on MENA, Obama’s abject partnering with Putin on Syria, etc. are not imaginary. The collapse is real. There is foreign political interference in the American political process. America has been under subversive attack for some time, from the Saudis, the Chinese, the Russians.  If foreign powers can get away with 9/11, they can get away with anything.

That’s what the Hillary server symbolizes: the sellout of both sides to the highest bidder. When the subject came up a few months ago, what did the press do but bury it.  Yet the question remains: who left the door open? The answer’s not necessarily the GOP or (XOR) the Dems. It might be like being in a room with 2 guilty parties, each pointing at the other.  “He did it!” After a while you realize they both did.

The 2016 political campaign has highlighted the seriousness of the principal-agent problem. This occurs when the agent (a lawyer, or public official) begins to act in his own interests and not those of the principal he represents. Let’s refer to it as the sellout problem.

The emergence of a globalized economy meant that the constituency of politicians broadened to include interests in China, the Middle East, Europe and the former USSR, plus Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America. These happened to include some of the most corrupt tendencies in the world.

It was only a matter of time before Western politicians started working for whoever paid most. That problem has now reached a critical mass and so there is plenty of ammunition and mud to sling around on both sides.

The harder question is how the principal regains control of the agents. How do they realign the incentives of their agents to match those of their “nations”? The answer involves some kind of segmentation — in other words, the return of the nations, the resurrection of the offense of treason, etc., among other things. Trump, whatever his relations to Putin might be, symbolizes the revival of the nation, perhaps falsely, I don’t know. One thing’s for sure: Brexit and the revival of nationalism isn’t accidental or driven purely by bigotry. It is driven by the need to fix the sellout problem.

How did Putin take over the world?  The answer may be simple: he had a country, he had a corner to fight and that may have made all the difference.

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