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Snoopers Gonna Snoop

Russian President Vladimir Putin visits Saint PetersburgRussian President Vladimir Putin visits Saint Petersburg

It’s hard for non-Americans to understand how a country that persistently spies on, and infiltrates the power structures of, even its closest allies can get so extraordinarily bent out of shape when someone tries the same trick back on it.

It is now the opinion of the CIA that the Russian government ordered its intelligence services to subvert the presidential elections. The President-elect describes the agency’s claim as a self-interested ploy to deflect attention from its own shortcomings and cover the behinds of its political masters in the current administration.

The outside observer has no trouble at all in giving credence to both claims.

Spying and subversion is what powers do to their neighbors and rivals, and woe to those who fail to protect themselves against it. Wasn’t that what the U.S. was telling France and Germany in the wake of Edward’s Snowden’s revelations? By the same token, if you were Vladimir Putin, and your intelligence services weren’t trying to manipulate every possible process to Russia’s advantage, you’d wonder what you were paying them for (and he pays them very handsomely).

So much for how we got here. Where do we go from here? Who believes that the GRU (Russia’s CIA-equivalent) and its hacker pals at Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear (with whom they very probably share an address) are going to stop now that they have achieved their goals for 2016?

At some point, escalation and deterrence will have to be part of a U.S. response to what has happened this year–assuming that the U.S. wants to continue to be a Power. However sincere the President-elect is in his desire for détente with Moscow, there may be one more parallel with Ronald Reagan’s presidency before too long. That’s not a happy thought for those of us who have already survived one Cold War. But it’s a more realistic thought than expecting Russia (or China or Iran or anyone else) to suddenly stop behaving as Powers have always behaved.