Russian hacking scandal leaves more questions than answers
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The recent news stories that Russian hacking may have tipped the election raises several questions for our country to grapple with. 

(1) Did agents of the Russian government hack into U.S. websites to interfere in our presidential election?

(2) If the answer to the first question is “yes”, did those Russian agents intend to interfere to help  Trump defeat Mrs. Clinton?

(3) If the answer to the second question is “yes”, did the Russian hacking actually help Trump defeat Clinton?

(4) If the answer to the third question is “yes”, was the Russian hacking decisive in Trump’s victory; that is, would Trump have lost without help from Russian hackers?

The CIA apparently has come to the conclusion that Russian agents did in fact interfere in the election with the intention of favoring Trump over Clinton, but the evidence on which they base that conclusion has not been publicly disclosed.

Thus, the CIA would answer our second question affirmatively.

However, nothing in the news reports indicates that the agency has concluded that Russian hacking gave Trump any advantage over Clinton, and certainly not a decisive advantage. So the CIA apparently has left our third and fourth questions unanswered.

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Trump has said that the CIA conclusion is “ridiculous,” and, with all the delicacy of a bulldozer, he has reminded everyone that that agency once assured President George W. Bush that Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, which of course turned out to be untrue. (In a 2008 interview on CNN and again in a 2016 debate during the

Republican presidential-nomination campaign, Trump asserted that then-President George W. Bush “lied” when he claimed, before the Iraq invasion, that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. Trump’s insistence today that the CIA is not a reliable source of intelligence, based largely on its failure in the lead-up to the Iraq war, surely implies that President Bush did not lie about anything in 2003, but instead was misinformed by an incompetent CIA)

When President-elect Trump asserts that the CIA’s conclusion is ridiculous, one has to wonder whether he is taking into account the difference between our questions (2), (3) and (4).

Trump is known to display many attributes, but a capacity for precise expression of ideas is not one of them. It is clear that an affirmative answer to each of questions (2), (3) and (4) requires, in every case, more information than is necessary to support the prior affirmative answer. That is to say, each question is harder to answer in the affirmative than the preceding one.

I believe it is in fact impossible for anyone to answer question (4) affirmatively, because that would require proof of a counterfactual hypothetical. That is, it would require proof that if the Russians had not hacked, then Trump would have lost.

We have only one universe. There is no second, parallel universe in which we can run an experiment that alters a single variable—e.g., eliminating all Russian hacking—and then sit back and observe who, Trump or Clinton, wins the election. 

It would truly be ridiculous for the CIA or anyone else to assert that Russian hacking was decisive in Trump’s victory.

With regard to question (3), the CIA would be hard put to provide an answer, because analysis of election results is not anywhere close to its area of expertise. The talking heads who analyze politics for the cable networks could doubtlessly expound forever on the topic of whether or not Russian hackers had helped or hindered either candidate.

But the CIA is not in the business of handicapping U.S. presidential elections, so the agency’s judgment as whether a particular candidate was helped or hindered by Russian hacking would have to be treated with profound skepticism.

So, we come to question (2): Did Russian agents interfere in our election with a view toward helping Trump win?

The CIA has concluded that the answer is “yes”, and  Trump has concluded that that answer is ridiculous. How could the CIA determine the intentions of Russians hackers?

Perhaps the agency has intercepted direct communications between hackers, or between hackers and their superior officers, and those communications make clear the intention. That would be pretty convincing evidence, but we do not know whether it exists; surely many of us would be surprised if it did.

Without such unequivocal admissions of an intention to boost Trump over Clinton, we would probably be left with only circumstantial evidence of intention. The CIA might believe, for example, that Russian hackers penetrated both the Republican National Committee and its Democratic counterpart, but then they leaked documents only from the DNC and not the RNC. Does this prove an intention to help Trump and hurt Clinton?

One cannot be sure. 

Until we know the evidence upon which the CIA bases its conclusion, perhaps the most we can say is that Trump simply doesn’t know whether or not that conclusion is ridiculous, and the rest of us simply cannot accept that conclusion as a slam dunk.

David E. Weisberg is a semi-retired attorney and a member of the NYS Bar.  He currently resides in Cary, NC and has published pieces on the Social Science Research Network and The Times of Israel.


The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.