The Russian penetration of the Democratic National Committee’s computer network at first glance seems like the “third-rate” burglary that Richard Nixon’s tricksters tried to pull at the DNC’s headquarters in 1972. But just as with Watergate, this latest political thievery has the earmarks of becoming a first-rate thriller.
I’ve written before about advances in cyber warfare, such as a Chinese cyber-mercenary gang known as Icefog,with apparent strong connections to the Chinese military. And while most cyber attacks are meant to gather intelligence and, if possible, not leave a trace, a few have become notoriously public, such as North Korea’s revenge attack on Sony Pictures for releasing a comedy that poked fun and insults at North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un. The U.S. intelligence service, on the other hand, is widely believed to have unleashed an invasive program called Stuxnet against Iran that physically sabotaged its nuclear program. Rather than corrupt computer files, Stuxnet caused centrifuges for processing nuclear material to spin too fast and self-destruct.
So any strong U.S. reaction to the Russian hack of DNC email servers would have been like saying they were “shocked, shocked to learn there was cyber spying going on around here.” In fact, the initial reaction was an admission that foreign countries, and our own, hack files of political organizations in other countries, friendly or not, to regularly gather insight into another nation’s key politicians. There’s a sort of nudge-and-a-wink attitude about such political spying, perhaps because it’s better for all sides if everyone’s up to speed on each country’s political landscape.
It was the release of DNC’s emails to Wikileaks, however, that seemed to cross the line.