U.S. allegations that Russia swayed the presidential election demonstrate the ever-increasing importance of cyber security in international affairs. [Xinhua]
The allegations by the United States that Russia purposefully hacked important data and released it in a systematic way to influence the outcome of the presidential elections is now official. The key findings of a report by U.S. intelligence agencies provide glimpses of the Russia's purported meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
The report directly targets President Vladimir Putin for orchestrating interference in the electoral process to tip it subtly in the favor of Donald Trump, who ultimately won to the astonishment of everyone. Apparently, Putin wanted to discredit U.S. democratic institutions and with it U.S. politics and leadership.
"We assess with high confidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election, the consistent goals of which were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary (Hillary) Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency," says the scathing report.
The findings support the belief that Trump's victory was not secured though the genuine will of the people of the United States. Things were manipulated in a systematic way. According to the report, the Russian government tried to discredit Hillary Clinton. "All three agencies agree with this judgment. The CIA and FBI have high confidence in this judgment; the NSA (National Security Agency) has moderate confidence," according to report.
Trump was more acceptable to Russia than Clinton, who maintained a tough line towards Moscow's policies in Syria and Ukraine. Trump is more lenient and might be ready to explore the possibility of a joint front against violent extremism, and especially against groups like the Islamic State.
The report also delves into the reasons why Putin hates Clinton and how the plan to tamper with the elections was politically motivated. The important aspect of the entire saga is how to quantify the exact amount of Russian influence to determine the number of voters swayed by the alleged interference through cyberattacks. Without sound data to support the argument, it is just an allegation.
I am not in a position to pass any judgment over the allegations by the U.S. or the nature of influence Russian meddling had on the elections. But the idea of using cyber space to sway popular opinion in a wholesale manner is pretty interesting.
We all know that the internet has unleashed unimaginable possibilities for the world. But to use it so delicately as to manipulate the appointment of the new leader of a super power is mind-boggling. It shows that nobody is secure in the cyber world. It is terrifying as well.
The intelligence report about the hacking of emails by Russia has in fact set the tone for a new "war" between the United States and Russia. It will be different from the Cold War, actual wars and proxy conflicts. It is aimed at the nerve center of a nation. The antagonists might seriously damage each other by hacking the key information and data that are linked with national security.
The cyber war as it should be called is already taking place on social media, where different groups and governments operate anonymous or fake accounts, which generate content to influence opinion.
The report by U.S. intelligence has also served another purpose, as the incoming president Trump will start his term under the influence of the Russian meddling in the election. In fact, the report has weakened Trump even before he could begin his tenure as President. He will have to be careful while dealing with Putin.
The U.S. establishment is making sure that Trump should not go the extra mile in accommodating Putin on key security and trade issues. The report also serves this purpose. But it may be just a coincidence that it was released days ahead of Trump taking over the Oval Office.
Sajjad Malik is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit:
Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.