5 Practical Lessons from the ONI and Golden Shower Reports

Submitted by Charlie on Thu 12 Jan 2017 - 07:45

"Milhouse, can you keep a secret?" - Bart Simpson
"No." - Milhouse van Houten
"Oh well, who cares?" - Bart Simpson

Last Friday, the terrifyingly oxymoronic Office of National Intelligence released a declassified version of a report concluding that the Russian government helped Donald Trump win the election. Earlier this week, CNN reported that Trump's campaign was actively working with Russian government agents during the campaign. Then Buzzfeed released an unsigned dossier from a private intelligence firm mentioned in the CNN report. That dossier included further charges of collusion between the Trump 2016 campaign and the Russians, as well as promises from Trump to sideline NATO military assistance to Ukraine.

And, as anyone reading this is doubtlessly aware, the report also contained a paragraph alleging that Trump paid sex workers to urinate in a hotel bed he believed was used by the Obamas. Sadly, there's no mention of whether Trump himself pissed on anyone or was pissed on himself. Happily, such details are irrelevant to excellent pee jokes on Twitter.

For an excellent rundown on the weaknesses of the ONI report, see Masha Gessen in the New York Review of Books. For an equally excellent rundown of the Trump-Hookers-Pee dossier, see Lawfare. In the meantime, and as fun as the golden shower jokes are, here are a few things we can say for sure that go beyond soiled bedsheets. 

1. Secrecy Is Killing the Republic, Part 1 - If the allegations contained in the DNI report are true, it constitutes the gravest attack on the United States since Pearl Harbor and represents the worst foreign interference in an election since the Constitution was adopted in 1788. Despite that, the federal government is withholding the specific technical details that could prove its charges. Why? Because it's got a few petty technical secrets it wants to keep using.

This is beyond irresponsible. First, it means the charges can never be proved, and so hands the permanent propaganda weapon of plausible deniability to the guilty parties. Second, it values secrecy over the things the secrecy is supposed to be protecting. That's so absurd as to border on psychotic.

Third and most importantly, the whole point of that gargantuan intelligence apparatus is to safeguard the United States, and it failed spectacularly. Heads should be rolling. A top down reform of every agency that knew about this should immediately be done (not that we'd want Trump doing it, of course). This kind of failure demands large scale institutional reform and a complete change in intelligence strategy. Speaking of which...


2. Secrecy Is Killing the Republic, Part 2 - The bright, flashing, neon lesson to be learned from this catastrophe is that the information systems the country depends on are helplessly insecure. The federal government has both the resources and the information to remedy that, but won't do so because it wants to preserve those vulnerabilities for its own use. Meanwhile, American citizens, businesses, and political organizations remain at risk.

Think about that for a second: the federal government has knowledge of critical security vulnerabilities that affect hundreds of millions of Americans, and it's keeping them secret so it can play spy vs. spy with the GRU. They're so obsessed with chasing bad guys that they've forgotten that the whole reason they do that is to protect the good guys. They're sitting on vulnerabilities whose potential damage runs into tens of billions of dollars. It's madness.


3. We Need Pen and Paper Ballots For Every Vote in the Country - The ONI report specifically states that voting tallies were not changed. But electronic voting machines can easily be tampered with in ways that are basically untraceable and could invalidate the votes of millions of people. As bad as things are right now, imagine if we didn't have accurate vote totals in a state that decided the election and didn't know the legitimate outcome . . . ever.

Paper ballots that can be counted by human beings need to be mandated in every state in the Union.


4. CNN, Network News, and Major Newspapers Did Far More Damage Than Putin - Overlooked in all the foofaraw over who hacked who and who Trump peed on is the fact that the main damage wasn't done by Putin or any shadowy figures. Mainstream American political media, which is increasingly indistinguishable from tabloid gossip rags, made selective and dribbled out email stories a months long obsession. Worse, they got played like fiddles. After the first one or two leaks contained little more than office gossip, it should've been apparent that there was nothing of value in any email from the DNC or John Podesta.

But every time a new piece of office gossip emerged, mainstream commercial media wrote stories, debated it for hours on television, and made it the center of that day's campaign coverage to the exclusion of any policy message from either candidate and the far more legitimate scandals that came from serial fraudster, tax dodger, and possible international blackmail target Donald Trump. American political media has become so dysfunctional that it cannot be trusted to cover an election.


5. Professional Trolling Is Very Dangerous - Let's say you're a foreign government and want to influence American election coverage, how much would it cost to do so? Just 100 people with passable English skills working in eight hour shifts would give you three round-the-clock trolls for each of the major television networks, each of the cable news networks, plus The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. And you'd still have half a dozen people left over to haunt social media hashtags. Overhead plus salary for that would probably come to less than $100,000 per month, also known as chump change.

In this day and age, it doesn't take a lot of resources to push coverage, gin up conspiracy theories (what we used to call "fake news"), and put a lot of agitprop into the world. Journalists need to be on guard about this, but more importantly they need to make it a regular talking point until the public is fully aware of it as well.