Are You Prepared For November 9th?  

Posted by T. Greer in , ,

We rush towards disaster and greet it with a smirk.

I sketched out what this disaster might look like when Bloomberg broke the story of Andrés Sepúlveda, a man who claims to have help hack elections in Nicaragua, Panama, Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Venezuela, this spring:

Andrés Sepúlveda is a challenge that neither our political institutions nor our political philosophy have prepared us to meet…. If [the hackers] performance is done just right no one in the audience will know if the electoral victories they witness were justly won or were delivered by puppeteers in the shadows.

It is this ambiguity that makes Sepúlveda's methods so dangerous. His is a poisoned dart aimed at the heart of liberal democracy. For the governing regimes of the Western world are built on a myth, and it is a myth that goes like this: in democracies, decisions of state are made by the will of the people. That actual policy making in democratic regimes is only tenuously connected to popular will is immaterial. A belief in the 'consent of the governed' preserves the peace. It allows for factions to compete for control of the state without violence. It is a useful myth (and if limited to the selection of candidates, one that has some truth to it), but one that depends of a transparent system of electioneering to sustain it. The democracy of the election hackers is not transparent. They muddy the system. The more infamous cases like this become, the muddier the system gets. It is important to understand that no team needs to consistently succeed in hacking their preferred candidates into victory for this to be true--all that is needed for democracy to lose its luster is a belief that a given electoral system could be hacked. [1]

I ended that piece with a few speculative hypotheticals:

Just what does American democracy look like when foreign syndicates and intelligence agencies can manipulate social media and internet platforms to boost the candidates they prefer? An even more important question: what does American democracy look like when Americans believe foreign syndicates and intelligence agencies are manipulating them to boost the candidates they prefer? What happens when the losing side of any electoral contest believes they lost because someone on the other side hacked the election to their advantage?

We will soon find out. [2]

At the time I feared my words were a tad too dramatic. I fear this no longer. My hypotheticals are no longer hypothetical. We now know exactly what it looks like when foreign intelligence agencies manipulate American social media and internet platforms to boost the candidates they prefer. We also now know exactly what it looks like when Americans believe that foreign intelligence agencies are manipulating our election cycles.

Welcome to the war, America.

What we do not yet know is how America responds after actual voting on election day has been manipulated. We will know soon. 

Are you prepared for November 9th?

The vulnerability of voting machines to outside hacking is at this point long proven. Among many circles it is well known. Well versed tech junkies post articles like this to their Facebook and Twitter profiles with the same smugness they usually call on to ridicule lesser beings who’ve never heard of Truecrypt or password managers. With a smirk they say things like, “septuagenarian officials prove they don’t understand technology, case #2,038!”

Does their smugness prepare them any better for November 9th?

Voting machines are not just hackable—over the last week it has become clear that the infrastructure around them has already been hacked. But the important thing here isn’t how successful Russian attempts are at penetrating the vote tallying machines. All they need to accomplish their goal is to instill the fear that they might have penetrated them.

Every news report on the issue makes the situation that much more serious—every new headline is a new challenge to ambitious hackers looking for international-level lulz; every fresh dispatch is a fresh temptation to campaigns and their sympathizers to ensure that their candidate wins where he or she must; every new broadcast is a potential inspiration for the next radical or terrorist.

Hacking is not technically necessary to pull this sort of operation off. John Robb suggests that a few dozen false bomb threats would be enough to start this ball rolling. I suppose real bombs would do the trick as well.

Are we prepared for November 9th?

We live in a country on edge. Trust in political and social institutions are at historical lows. Social life is atomozied. Politics are polarized. Within the last year radicalized groups from both sides of the aisle have resorted to the force of arms to achieve their ideological agendas. In this shattered state we face a wounded but still powerful enemy who seeks revenge for America’s interference in her own internal affairs, a power who actively works across the globe for a future of diminishing American power.

The time for smugness is over. It is now time for every American of national prominence—the presidential aspirants, of course, but also party and congressional leaders, journalists and media moguls, officials up an down the executive branch—to plan what they will do if the voting of November 8th is disrupted by hidden hacking or open attack. If an hour so grim as this arrives, these careful and measured responses, planned well in advance, will be all that stand between momentary political disruption and a violent social eruption.

 Now is the day to prepare for November 9th.


[1] T. Greer, "Hacking Democracy," Scholar's Stage (1 April 2016). For the Selpuveda story, see Jordan Robertson, Michael Riley, and Andrew Willis, "How to Hack an Election," Bloomberg Newsweek, 30 March, 2016 (print edition, 4 April, 2016).

[2] Greer, "Hacking Democracy,"

This entry was posted on 05 September, 2016 at 10:41 PM and is filed under , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .



We now know exactly what it looks like when foreign intelligence agencies manipulate American social media and internet platforms to boost the candidates they prefer. ....... [W]e face a wounded but still powerful enemy who seeks revenge for America’s interference in her own internal affairs, a power who actively works across the globe for a future of diminishing American power.

Where one can read the best argument for these claims?

Without solid evidence, this is a largely speculative 'conspiracy theory' that heightens the chances for a war, a needless major war. It would have been foolhardy to embrace it as fact.

Of course, it is all right if there is reasonably sound evidence behind it.

September 7, 2016 at 9:27 AM

For all of the commentary about how Trump is Putin's favored candidate, most have blindly assumed that it is because their strategic interests align in policy circles. That is only half of the explanation, and Putin's longer game (which works even if Trump loses) is to try and undermine trust in Western institutions. Lack of trust in the veracity of vote totals, bifurcated, partisan media regularly pushing dis-information, ignoring stories and encouraging half-truths. The pity is that much of the professional left has tee'd this up, but it is the hard "right" that is taking the bait. The dismaying part of this whole process is the degree both sides are fostering it, in their own, very different, ways.

September 8, 2016 at 12:59 PM

Figure it this way. I'm Putin. My goal is to remove the US as an actor on the world stage. The best way to do that is to have the Yanks fighting each other. So I prepare, for years, to set that up. I am assisted in this by the willfully blind passivity of a very large segment of the political class and the business, media and academic establishment; perfectly represented by Mr. Obama. In fact, I have taken the measure of this class and Mr. Obama and know that I can get away with anything, anything, in furtherance of my goal. Please note too that though my efforts and those of the Red Chinese, there is nothing at all that I don't know about the inner workings of the US gov, the state govs, the county govs, the local govs and the US military. And I mean nothing. Nothing. And there is no system I can't get into. None at all.

Now comes Nov 9 and I bollix up everything, or maybe only some things. Maybe some places have a legit vote count, some don't. Nobody can tell. Then it becomes know that I've done this. I don't give an interview to Russia Today admitting this but it becomes quite obvious that I have. The election results can't be trusted and it is the result of foreign actions. Now what will the US gov exec branch do?

Since I (remember, I'm Vlad the Great [and he will be the Great if he pulls this off] in this scenario) have taken the measure of Mr. Obama I know what he will do. He will declare the election null and void and decree that he will remain in office until things are cleared up and another election can be held. No time frame given of course.

Then of course things will come apart because various state governments will say, nothin' doin' buddy. We aren't going along with that. Then Mr. Obama will send federal agents to arrest some governors who will be protected by state police who won't back down and God only knows from there. God may not know but I, Vlad the Great know that the US polity and military won't give a hoot about anything that happens anywhere else in the world and all those troops will go home to take part in the civil conflict.

Voila! I've just accomplished the greatest come from behind victory in world geo-political history.

That is what can happen.

September 29, 2016 at 7:37 PM

There was a sustained attack on US internet service today, just a day or two after the Czechs pick up a Russian hacker for us. Things are getting started it appears.

October 21, 2016 at 10:09 PM

Folks should probably read the US Constitution. Disputed elections go to the House of Representatives.

October 30, 2016 at 9:18 PM

And the Republicans have a majority in the House, at least at this moment. How will Mr. Obama view that? I don't know. What if some of the governors don't play along and certify the vote in their states because of hacked machines, or if suits are filed, in the hundreds, challenging the certification of the vote? The point stands, if the legitimacy of the vote counts are called into question because of computer shenanigans, especially foreign shenanigans, Lord only knows what will happen.

November 2, 2016 at 2:39 PM

We may have dodged the bullet. I was worried about Y2K too.

November 9, 2016 at 7:27 AM

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