Donald Trump and his largely unexpected victory over establishment-favorite Hillary Clinton has been made the focal point of an alleged plot by state-sponsored Russian hackers to intervene in the 2016 Presidential Election. Although the actual impact of any attempts by the Russian government to skew US elections with strategic, one-sided releases of hacked documents and public misperceptions is likely no greater than those of biased media outlets, undue foreign influence on the US government is intolerable. With that in mind, this story has a great deal more to do with Vladimir Putin and America’s national security apparatus than the 2016 Presidential Election.
Accusing state-sponsored Russian hackers, along with Russian President Vladimir Putin, of attempting to manipulate the 2016 Presidential Election results, with a “high degree of certainty,” is the CIA. Figures like Donald Trump have cast doubt on the credibility of the CIA’s assessment, which appears greatly based on speculation, but the American People long ago lost the trust and faith needed to simply accept the weakly supported conclusions of the CIA or any another national security agency. Due to the often secretive nature of national security , critical mistakes, e.g. nuclear weapons in Iraq, and overreach, America’ national security apparatus has spent years undermining its own credibility and, therefore, its mission.
As the main objective of the CIA throughout the decades of the Cold War was to confront and combat Russian influence, the CIA is predisposed to view Russia as an imminent threat, which makes any assessments about Russia by the CIA questionable. Vladimir Putin may have a personal grudge against Hillary Clinton, but the CIA has a professional grudge against the Russian government stemming from the Cold War and, more recently, the Edward Snowden Revelations. The Edward Snowden Revelations forced the need for transparency and accountability in America’s national security apparatus, but the Ukraine Crisis distracted the world.
The world needed, and still needs, to confront the Russian government over the seizure of Crimea and the ensuing Ukraine Crisis, but the need to reform America’s national security apparatus is ongoing. When people feel endangered, they tend to forgo their aspirations as they grasp for a sense of security. Where the Bradley Manning, Wikileaks, and Edward Snowden NSA Revelations had finally pushed Americans beyond the intellectual paralysis brought on by the September 11th terrorist attacks to allow for criticism of National Security overreach, the Ukraine Crisis and the Islamic State have since overwhelmed those concerns.
Organizations like the NSA and CIA are tasked with ensuring national security interests through the gathering and securing of information. Unfortunately, the need for secrecy makes these organizations a magnet for individuals who view national security as a national interest that must be pursued by any means necessary. Although the spokespersons of these organizations have learned over the last few years to express a need to balance national security with civil liberties, such as privacy rights, hardliners view rights more as privileges to be waived whenever national security interests are at stake. The reason the American People do not trust their own national security apparatus is because officials do not respect their rights.
Under this mode of thinking, any potential threat to US security is a valid reason to ignore someone's civil liberties. Under such a perspective, the US Constitution has value, because it provides structure to society, i.e. people adhere to the Law when they feel it protects their rights and their lives. On the other hand, an individual sharing such a view does not necessarily see the broader value of the principles behind the Constitution, thus they believe their conduct outside of US borders does not have to adhere to the values set forth in the US Constitution. In other words, hardliners in the NSA and CIA do not view civil liberties as their concern whenever they are operating outside of the jurisdiction of the US Constitution.
It might be said that hardliners within the NSA and CIA continue to operate under well-entrenched Cold War thinking. On the other hand, it is probably more correct to say hardliners used the Cold War to entrench themselves into organizations like the NSA and CIA then expanded their ability to operate freely by taking advantage of events like the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks. In essence, the singular motivation of these individuals is to suppress any potential threat to our national security and secure the power to do that. This can make them very effective protectors; however, it also makes them very dangerous.
That said, the real challenge is suppressing the hardliner influence in our super secret spy organizations. Aside from seeking legal justification for completely ignoring the human and civil rights of anyone they suspect to be a threat, hardliners do not seem to be answerable to the Executive Branch, which is understandable given their nature and the nature of the bureaucracy overseeing their operations. Politically, Democrats will not take on our national security apparatus, because doing so makes them look weak, while Republicans will not because they have little to gain by doing so. As such, meaningful reforms to Congressional and Executive oversight of these organizations need to be put in place as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, the best option at this point for wrangling in our spies is to create official private and public channels for insiders to anonymously, securely, and responsibly submit material for review. People like Edward Snowden are the only effective tools we have when it comes to oversight of organizations like the NSA and CIA. Quite frankly, such individuals are the only means of stopping the larger problems at the NSA and CIA at this time, yet we are prosecuting them instead of helping them leak information in a more responsible manner.
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