See no evil | On Politics | Chicago Reader

See no evil 

Democrats and Republicans have their own reasons for looking the other way when Putin’s operatives hacked into the Illinois State Board of Elections’ computers.

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click to enlarge JULIA S. SIMON
  • Julia S. Simon

I was reading an article in the New York Times about the recent Senate Intelligence Committee report on Russian election interference when I spied the following sentence.

"While details of many of the hackings directed by Russian intelligence, particularly in Illinois and Arizona, are well known, the committee described 'an unprecedented level of activity against state election infrastructure.'"

That brought me to a stop. Hacking in Illinois? Well-known?

Well, I suppose it depends on your definition of "well." It surely hasn't been as widely covered or become as well-known as, say, the ongoing kicking showdown between Elliott Fry and Eddy Pineiro at the Bears' training camp in Bourbonnais. We get hourly updates on that thing.

But the Illinois State Board of Elections, hacked? I've been going around for the last few days asking people what they know about the story. And most folks didn't know the state's election board had been hacked, much less by Russian operatives. The only people who claimed they knew about it were reporters.

A word about that—reporters are generally untrustworthy when it comes to what they say they do and do not know. It has to do with their obsession with not getting scooped. They've been conditioned to believe that it's a journalistic sin not to know at least something about everything.

It reminds me of Aziz Ansari's latest Netflix special, where he asks the audience for their opinion about the Internet story about the Pizza Hut employee who arranged the pepperoni on top of a pizza to resemble a swastika.

After the audience weighs in with their opinion, Ansari reveals he made the whole thing up—there was no Internet story about pepperoni in the shape of a swastika. Proving that people would rather lie than admit they don't know something.

Back to the hacking of Illinois election board computers by Putin's operatives . . .

Our general ignorance about what the Russians did and why they did it illuminates a larger point about how we as Americans are not speaking as one when it comes to Russian spying—to put it mildly.

Republicans don't want to talk about it because Putin's operatives were acting to benefit Donald Trump.

Any news about Russian operatives—including what they were up to when they hacked into Illinois election board computers—only casts doubt on the legitimacy of Trump's so-called victory over Hillary Clinton.

I say so-called victory because, as you recall, Hillary actually won the popular vote. And while we're on that topic . . .

Allowing Trump to be president after he lost the popular vote is sort of like the Bears choosing Fry over Pineiro even if the latter outkicks the former in their competition. You better believe that Bears fans of the MAGA hat-wearing persuasion would raise holy hell about that.

As for my beloved Democrats, many of them are too busy refighting the Sanders-Clinton primary battle to worry about Putin.

I wish I had a nickel for every time a Bernie backer told me to stop obsessing over Russian hackers. They think talking about the Russians undercuts their argument that Hillary lost to Trump because she ran a lousy campaign and didn't strongly articulate Democratic values—like the need for health care for all.

Well, she did run a lousy campaign. But that's not mutually exclusive from Putin's hackers. Bernie's bros hate Hillary in part because of Russian hackers.

At about the same time the Russians were hacking into Illinois election board computers, they stole hundreds of e-mails from the computers of the Democratic National Committee.

They then dumped those pilfered e-mails onto WikiLeaks at about the same time Democrats were gathering for their national convention.

So instead of singing "Kumbaya" and uniting people by saying "we're all in this together in the fight against Trump," Bernie backers were howling with rage at all the mean, nasty, lowlife things Democratic operatives had e-mailed each other about Bernie.

In fact, I'll bet you most Bernie supporters are still more upset at Debbie Wasserman Schultz—the former head of the DNC—than they are at any Russian hacker. If only Democrats fought Republicans as hard as they fight each other, they'd control the White House, the Senate, and the Supreme Court.

Back to the hacking in Illinois.

It took place in June 2016. But it wasn't reported until August 29, 2016, when Rick Pearson of the Tribune wrote: "Illinois State Board of Elections officials said Monday they believe personal information from fewer than 200,000 voters was hacked through a cyberattack of possible foreign origin that began in June and was halted a month later."

Russia's role went unreported until almost another year, when Congressman Mike Quigley highlighted it in remarks to the Tribune. "Quigley's declaration of Russian involvement in the hacking of the state elections board marked the first time the country had been definitively identified as behind the attack," Pearson wrote on June 5, 2017.

Clearly, it's not as though anyone in or out of Illinois had been talking about this story with any degree of urgency if it took that long to mention the Russians.

The recent Senate committee report doesn't shed much light on the matter—devoting only two pages of text, some of which is redacted, to the hacking.

On the question of motives, the report quotes a staffer with the Department of Homeland Security who says: "Russia would have had the ability to potentially manipulate some of that data, but we didn't see that. . . . Why they didn't . . . is sort of an open-ended question. I think it fits under the larger umbrella of undermining confidence in the election by tipping their hand that they had this level of access or showing that they were capable of getting it."

Of course, things would be different if those Russian hackers were working against Trump instead of for him.

Then he'd be howling to the heavens about Russian interference. And the story about the hacking of our state board of elections' computers really would be as well-known as the kicker battle going on in Bourbonnais.  v

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