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So what if Russians trying to influence U.S. election?

By Harlan Ullman, Arnaud de Borchgrave Distinguished Columnist
So what if Russians trying to influence U.S. election?
Is Vladimir Putin's government overtly or covertly sponsoring this intrusion and Russian applies to the state. Does it mean individual Russians are hacking into Democratic Party and other websites to collect or steal intellectual property? Or, are different parties involved who may be placing blame on Russia and/or Russians? File Photo by Ververidis Vasilis/Shutterstock

WASHINGTON, Sept. 9 (UPI) -- U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies are investigating allegations of Russian "active measures" to hack or otherwise influence American politics. This electronic intrusion raises a number of questions. The first is "so what?" A corollary is "what is new?"

By most measures, far more damaging hacking arises from organized or disorganized crime; gifted amateurs testing their skills; and competitors who break the law to ferret out information on rivals. And it is no surprise that countries have always meddled in the internal affairs of other countries beyond current day Internet hacking. The United States has a far from perfect track record in this instance.

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The second is what is meant by the word "Russian?" Is Vladimir Putin's government overtly or covertly sponsoring this intrusion and Russian applies to the state. Does it mean individual Russians are hacking into Democratic Party and other websites to collect or steal intellectual property? Or, are different parties involved who may be placing blame on Russia and/or Russians?

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The third question is what if anything can be done about hacking and hackers regardless of source and intent? More will be said about the greater menace of hacks.

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America has often intruded into the affairs of other nations electronically or otherwise. And the converse was true. Examples of political interference are plentiful and not limited to the cyber age. Stealing secrets along with disinformation, misinformation and propaganda to influence internal politics are also as old as society.

Secretary of State Henry Stimson may have believed that "gentlemen do not read other gentlemen's mail." But American Army and Navy code breakers certainly did that during the interwar years. Breaking German and Japanese codes contributed to winning World War II. And engineering regime change was not unique to the George W. Bush administration in invading Iraq in 2003.

Presidents Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy were quite happy to replace foreign leaders not favorably disposed to American interests whether in Central and South America; Cuba unsuccessfully; Iran in 1953; or a number of African countries. South Vietnam was also host to American active measures to affect political outcomes legitimizing a string of Vietnamese presidential generals and air marshals.

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The CIA and NSA are chartered to use covert means of espionage, including substantial hacking endeavors not limited to Russia, China and other tempting targets to influence events and outcomes. Before we accuse Moscow of similar activities, did not Benjamin Netanyahu attempt to subvert the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to end Iran's nuclear weapons programs in addressing both Houses of Congress? No one seemed to object to the Israeli prime minister defying an American president in his nation's capital. Nor when Barack Obama came out strongly against Britain leaving the EU, did this appear to Americans as undue interference in U.K. politics. Neither was hacking. But both surely tried to influence political outcomes.

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Regarding whether Russia or Russians were hacking into political party networks, what would be Putin's purpose? Putin surely is not a fan of Hillary Clinton. But she at least is a safer pair of hands and someone Putin might be able to find easier to manipulate than her opponent.

While Donald Trump may have expressed a sympathetic view of Putin, still, the candidate's erratic behavior and chameleon-like shifts in what passes for policy would not necessarily have the Kremlin in his corner. Trump might be capable of anything. From Putin's perspective, neither candidate seems to be his choice.

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What can be done? Affecting elections by any and every means is not news. Arguably, the Kennedy clan stole the 1960 election in West Virginia and Illinois. Richard Nixon accepted defeat then but covered up the botched Watergate break-in a dozen years later to burgle Democratic secrets. Al Gore might have won the presidency had the Supreme Court not interceded.

The best response today to Internet intrusions into our politics is to identify the source of hacking. If it is the Russian government, the United States has many ways to respond. One is to present the evidence in public respecting the sensitivities of sources and methods of collection. And covert activities to delegitimize Putin's rule would be fair game. If someone else is the culprit, appropriate action can include law suits and criminal prosecutions.

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The larger concern extends far beyond Internet hacking. It is political hacks who distort and damage the process of government far more than hackers. And here corrective solutions certainly need strengthening.

Harlan Ullman is UPI's Arnaud de Borchgrave Distinguished Columnist and serves as senior adviser for Supreme Allied Commander Europe, the Atlantic Council and at Business Executives for National Security and chairs two private companies. His last book is "A Handful of Bullets: How the Murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand Still Menaces the Peace." His next book, due out next year, is "Anatomy of Failure: Why America Loses Wars It Starts."

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