Donald Trump was right. The election was rigged. What Trump got wrong (and, boy, does he get things wrong) is that the rigging worked in his favor. The manipulations took three monumental forms: Russian cyber-sabotage; FBI meddling; and systematic Republican efforts, especially in swing states, to prevent minority citizens from casting votes. The cumulative effect was more than sufficient to shift the outcome in Trump’s favor and put the least qualified major-party candidate in the history of the republic into the White House.
Trumpist Internet trolls and Trump himself dismiss such concerns as sour grapes, but for anyone who takes seriously the importance of operating a democracy these assaults on the nation’s core political process constitute threats to the country’s very being. Let’s look at each of these areas of electoral interference in detail.
Gone Phishing: The Drone of Info Warfare
Suppose one morning you receive an e-mail from your Internet service provider telling you a security breach has put your data at risk. You are instructed to reset your password immediately. In keeping with the urgency of the situation, the e-mail that delivers the warning provides a link to the page where your new password can be entered. Anxiously you do as instructed, hoping you’ve acted soon enough to prevent a disaster.
Congratulations: You have successfully reset your password. Unfortunately, you have also provided it to the hackers who sent the original, entirely bogus warning about a breach of security. This kind of ploy is called phishing. It’s exactly how the e-mail account of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair, was penetrated. His assistants fell for the ruse.
Alternatively, a phisher might send dozens of intriguing offers to employees of a certain organization over the course of weeks. Each message provides a link for more information, and as soon as someone in a moment of boredom or confusion clicks on it, presto change-o, the hacker is inside that person’s computer, free to worm through the network to which it’s connected. This is how hackers got into the computers of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and downloaded not just e-mails but strategic planning documents and other confidential information.
At this point no one aside from Trump die-hards and maybe Trump himself—he has said so many contradictory things on the subject, it’s difficult to tell what he actually believes—denies that the hackers were Russian and acted under some kind of official instruction, even possibly from the highest levels of Kremlin authority, including Russian President Vladimir Putin. Moreover, it’s clear that the harvest of stolen material was used to help Trump and hurt Clinton. This is the unambiguous conclusion of a National Intelligence Community report released on January 6th and representing the shared conclusions of the CIA, the FBI, and the National Security Agency, which stated: “Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments.”