Here are two of political history’s great constants: first, countries meddling in the internal affairs of others (both enemies and “friends”); and, second, bogus charges from a faction in one country that foreigners are meddling in its internal affairs to help another faction.
Both are poison for any country that wishes to rule itself.
So if we’re serious about being a self-governing republic, we have to demand that President Obama declassify as much intelligence as possible that Russia may have intervened in the 2016 presidential election.
Taking Donald Trump’s position — that we should just ignore the question of Russian hacking and “move on” — would be a disaster.
Relying on a hazy war of leaks from the CIA, FBI, various politicians, and their staff is an equally terrible idea.
A congressional investigation would be somewhat better, but that would take years — like the investigations of the intelligence on Iraq and weapons of mass destruction — and would be fatally compromised by the Democrats’ political timidity and GOP opposition.
The only path forward that makes sense is for Obama to order the release of as much evidence as possible underlying the reported “high confidence” of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia both intervened in the election and did so with the intention of aiding Trump’s candidacy.
Intelligence agencies hate, often with good reason, to publicly reveal how they obtain information, or even the information itself, since that can make it clear how they got it. But the government would not need to reveal its most sensitive sources and methods — e.g., which specific Vladimir Putin aides we have on our payroll — to release enough evidence to aid the public debate over interference in our election by a powerful nation state.
And if there were ever a situation in which it was crucial to lean in the direction of more rather than less disclosure, it’s now. Obama should make that clear to the intelligence agencies, and that if forced to he is willing to wield his power as president to declassify anything he deems appropriate.
The current discourse on this issue is plagued by partisan gibberish — there is a disturbing trend emerging that dictates that if you don’t believe Russia hacked the election or if you simply demand evidence for this tremendously significant allegation, you must be a Trump apologist or a Soviet agent.
The reality, however, is that Trump’s reference to the Iraq War and the debacle over weapons of mass destruction is both utterly cynical and a perfectly valid point. U.S. intelligence agencies have repeatedly demonstrated that they regularly both lie and get things horribly wrong. In this case they may well be correct, but they cannot expect Americans to simply take their word for it.
It’s also the case that the U.S. has a long history of interfering in other countries’ elections, and far worse: The U.S. has overthrown democratically elected governments the world over. In fact, in 2006 Hillary Clinton herself criticized the George W. Bush administration for not doing “something to determine who was going to win” in Palestinian elections. It would not be shocking in the least if Russia sought to interfere in the U.S. electoral process.
But let’s have some proof.
In his Farewell Address of 1796, George Washington wrote, “Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. But that jealousy to be useful must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it.” That was good advice then, and it’s good advice now. We have to force our politicians to take it seriously.
And if it comes to pass that the U.S. government refuses to back up these serious claims with evidence, then perhaps a patriotic whistleblower will do the public an important service. Here is our offer at The Intercept: If anyone has solid proof that Russia interfered with U.S. elections, send it to us via SecureDrop and we will verify its legitimacy and publish it.