When the shoe is on the other foot

Jack Goldsmith, who posts on the Lawfare blog, asked what will happen when Russia, China and Iran start naming and indicting U.S. officials for computer intrusions and interfering in their politics.

As the Snowden documents and David Sanger’s great new book and other books make plain, and as U.S. officials are wont to brag, the U.S. intelligence services break into computers and computer networks abroad at an astounding rate, certainly on a greater scale than any other intelligence service in the world.

Every one of these intrusions in another country violates that country’s criminal laws prohibiting unauthorized computer access and damage, no less than the Russian violations of U.S. laws outlined in Mueller’s indictment.

This is not a claim about the relative moral merits of the two countries’ cyber intrusions; it is simply a claim that each side unequivocally breaks the laws of the other in its cyber-espionage activities.  [snip]

Recall that President Obama boasted that U.S. offensive cyber capacities were the greatest in the world.

Sanger reports that “the United States remains the world’s stealthiest, most skillful cyberpower.”

Then consider:

  • The wide array of U.S. cyber intrusions abroad revealed by Snowden.
  • Olympic Games, the operation against Iranian centrifuges that Michael Hayden compared in significance to the use of nuclear weapons in August 1945.
  • The Shadow Broker leaks of many of the NSA’s offensive tools and what the NSA was doing with those tools.
  • The U.S. Internet Freedom program, which (among other things) provides cyber tools and training to activists in authoritarian nations with the aim of achieving political change there.
  • U.S. officials assisting and urging U.S. social media giants such as Twitter to help activists bring down foreign governments.

This is but a bit of the public evidence—surely a tiny sliver of the overall evidence—of U.S. “interferences” abroad using offensive cyber tools of various sorts.

This is not to say, Goldsmith wrote, that Robert Mueller is wrong to pursue his investigation or that we Americans should not be concerned about securing our computer systems.

But if we want other governments to change their behavior, we must be willing to admit and change our own.


Uncomfortable Questions in the Wake of Russia Indictment 2.0 and Trump’s Press Conference by Jack Goldsmith for Lawfare.  Worth reading in its entirety.

How to Stop Russian Election Interference by Ian Welsh.


Here is another quote from Jack Goldsmith’s Lawfare article.  This is in response to the first comment.

Intelligence history expert Loch Johnson told Scott Shane that the 2016 Russia electoral interference is “the cyber-age version of standard United States practice for decades, whenever American officials were worried about a foreign vote.”

The CIA’s former chief of Russia operations, Steven L. Hall, told Shane: “If you ask an intelligence officer, did the Russians break the rules or do something bizarre, the answer is no, not at all.”  Hall added that “the United States ‘absolutely’ has carried out such election influence operations historically, and I hope we keep doing it.”

Johnson and Hall argued to Shane that “Russian and American interferences in elections have not been morally equivalent,” since “American interventions have generally been aimed at helping non-authoritarian candidates challenge dictators or otherwise promoting democracy,” while “Russia has more often intervened to disrupt democracy or promote authoritarian rule.”

This is descriptively true in general (but not always), comforting to Americans and perhaps of moral relevance.  But it won’t influence Putin or other adversaries, and it cuts no ice in international relations generally.  Nor is there any relevant distinction in international law.

Source: Lawfare


Russia Isn’t the Only One Meddling in Elections | We Do It, Too by Scott Shane for the New York Times.


2 Responses to “When the shoe is on the other foot”

  1. whungerford Says:

    I see false equivalence again–while we don’t know what the CIA might have done, there is no evidence that they actively and effectively promoted or opposed Putin’s reelection.


  2. peteybee Says:

    So we got… influencing an election by revealing confidential docs that embarrass a candidate – or the Democrats, that Clinton benefited from the various skullduggery during the primaries, for the Republicans, potentially incriminating bits in the equally stupid email server scandal. Well that’s a pretty cruel violation of the rules of the game.

    On the 10 point scale of manipulating other countries’ governments, as practiced by our humble nation, this takes us all the way to something like a 2 out of 10?

    Noone bothers to say “what goes around comes around”, because it doesn’t. If it did, we’d be getting carpet bombed, Agent-Orange’d, and whatever’s left would get cleaned up by Mujaheddin and Colombian death squads.

    For this we gave up all other political discourse. Good job.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: