With both political parties increasingly sensitive to allegations of electoral rigging in the upcoming presidential elections, whether due to direct manipulation of the counting process or as a result of "hacks" potentially leading to accusations of vote rigging by the losing candidate and their supporters, today's striking news that the FBI has evidence that hackers targeted two state election databases in recent weeks may be a harbinger of what is to come.
According to Reuters, the FBI is urging U.S. election officials to increase computer security after it uncovered proof that hackers targeted two state election databases in recent weeks, according to a confidential advisory. The warning was in an Aug. 18 flash alert from the FBI's Cyber Division. Reuters obtained a copy of the document.
Yahoo News first reported the story Monday, citing unnamed law enforcement officials who said they believed foreign hackers caused the intrusions. Citing a state election board official, Yahoo News said the Illinois voter registration system was shut down for 10 days in late July after hackers downloaded personal data on up to 200,000 voters. The Arizona attack was more limited and involved introducing malicious software into the voter registration system, Yahoo News quoted a state official as saying. No data was removed in that attack, the official said.
As usual, the narrative immediately gravitated toward blaming Russia: as Reuters writes, "U.S. intelligence officials have become increasingly worried that hackers sponsored by Russia or other countries may attempt to disrupt the November presidential election."
Officials and cyber security experts say recent breaches at the Democratic National Committee and elsewhere in the Democratic Party were likely carried out by people within the Russian government. Kremlin officials have denied the allegations of Moscow's involvement.
Concerns about election computer security prompted Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to convene a conference call with state election officials earlier this month, when he offered the department's help in making their voting systems more secure.
The FBI warning did not identify the two states targeted by cyber intruders, but Yahoo News said sources familiar with the document said it referred to Arizona and Illinois, whose voter registration systems were penetrated.
It will not come as a surprise to anyone that in the latest manifestation of McCarthyism, the democratic party has accused Donald Trump of enjoying implicit support from the Kremlin, which has led to the anecdotal narraative that any Russian-sponsored hacks would benefit Trump.
Which is why we find it surprising that the FBI would come out with this story 70 days before the election, because if anything, it would serve as a strawman to "explain" a potential Hillary loss: should the shock outcome take place (a la Brexit), in which all polls were wrong, the media can then pivot to blaming the Kremlin for rigging the vote, perhaps leading to a voiding of the electoral outcome.
Of course, it is impossible to make that prediction as of this moment, especially with polls yet to reflect the upcoming debates between the two candidates, however keep an eye on similar stories suggesting that US electoral databases are unsafe and that "Russians" have made their way inside them over the coming weeks. With "easy to digest" narratives - especially those pandering to the lowest common denominator - taking on an increasingly greater significant in this election, the "hacked" election plot may be just what the media fallback story is, should there be a "shocking" result on November 8.