As the world fully enters the 21st century, the social and political landscape of America has undergone a profound shift. Republican lawmakers have praised Russian President Vladimir Putin for exposing what can be at best described as a lack of ethics in the Democratic party, and at worst, outright corruption. The Republican president-elect has hailed Wikileaks, an organization whose nearly sole purpose is the exposure of U.S. national security secrets. The party that once called the USSR the evil empire has undergone a complete reversal in terms of how it regards Russia.

The reasons for these shifts are numerous, and cannot be attributed to one or two factors alone. But the question arises as to what role covert Russian influence has played in shaping American perspectives about the Russian government.

“Like the invisible jet streams in the skies that determine the course of a storm, these hidden currents shape our lives, yet their influence is only beginning to be identified,” wrote anthropologist E. T. Hall. “It stands to reason, therefore, that whoever has greater awareness of these ‘jet streams’ and is able to influence the form that they take will have a very powerful tool in his hands indeed.”

To what extent these invisible jet streams have been guided by a hidden hand is something that has gone largely unexamined within defense policy circles and political discourse—until now.

Bottom line up front

The issue of the DNC hacked emails in the run up to the last U.S. presidential election is quickly becoming hopelessly muddled with false premises, political grandstanding, and general confusion. In order to clarify a few points, here is the bottom line up front:

  • This article is not claiming that the Donald Trump won the election because of Russian influence and espionage. Donald Trump secured 306 electoral votes while Hillary Clinton won 232. Perhaps if the election results were a close call there could be some question as to what influence tipped the scales, however, American voters helped Donald Trump secure a decisive victory.
  • This article is not claiming that electronic voting booths were “hacked,” as this is a straw man false claim resulting from both government officials and the media throwing around the term “hack,” which is then misinterpreted by the public. This is not surprising and all parties concerned should be more careful about the terminology they use. The Department of Homeland Security has publicly stated, “DHS assesses that the types of systems we observed Russian actors targeting or compromising are not involved in vote tallying.”
  • This article is claiming that Russia played a role in influencing U.S. elections and more via a sophisticated shaping operation utilizing what is known as reflexive control theory, described in detail below.
  • This article does not dispute the authenticity of the hacked emails published by Wikileaks.
  • This article is claiming that Russian influence, information, and covert control operations have an even more dire impact on American society than any influence they may have had on the election. The second- and third-order effects of reflexive control theory have created fissures in American society that will last long after Donald Trump leaves the White House.
  • This article is not claiming that America and Russia are engaged in a new Cold War, but rather a different type of power struggle in which Russia would like to fracture American dominance, in part by creating fissures in American society, and pave the way to a multi-polar world that allows the Russians to consolidate power internally and abroad, namely in post-Soviet nations.

What happened? What didn’t happen?

In brief, the DNC, Hillary Clinton, and John Podesta had their emails hacked into, and many of them were published on the internet by Wikileaks. The methods used to hack into the emails and distribute them has been widely contested. The U.S. intelligence community has repeatedly claimed that Russia was behind the hacks. Julian Assange of Wikileaks has disputed this, saying that the hacks did not come from Russia but rather that documents were handed over by a disgruntled DNC staffer named Seth Rich, who had electronic access to DNC databases.

Seth Rich cannot be questioned as to what really happened because he was gunned down in the streets of Washington D.C. while walking home from a bar to his apartment. Which narrative is true? Did Rich give the emails to Wikileaks or did Russia hack the emails and give them to Wikileaks? These two narratives are not mutually exclusive. If the Russians did hack the emails, they would have used several cut-outs. Using a cut-out, the Russians could have recruited Seth by misrepresenting their identity. Human intelligence and signals intelligence do not work in a vacuum; professional intelligence services use them in conjunction with each other. Likely, Assange is telling the truth as he knows it, being used as a unwitting cut-out himself.

Seth Rich

The conspiracy theory is that the Hillary Clinton campaign murdered Rich in order to prevent him from leaking more information. An alternative conspiracy theory could hold that the Russians assassinated him in order to close a loose thread, and prevent any chance of investigators finding Russian fingerprints on the emails. Officially, Rich’s murder was chalked up to random street violence, although nothing was stolen from his person as one might expect from a robbery. Regarding facts about the murder, few are forthcoming.