Obama, Lost in Transition

Today, President Obama, in a most undignified act, closed two Russian Diplomatic Centers and gave 35  Russian diplomats and their families 72 hours to get out of the country.    The front page headline in the New York Times reads Obama Strikes Back at Russia for Election Hacking.   What can be more petty and sloppy than open attacks on one’s adversaries in response to unproven accusations?   Despite loud assertion that there is technical proof that the Russians, even Putin himself, are guilty, nothing like that has been presented.   There is proof that the system is insecure  and hackers abound, and that some hackers reside in Russia.   That is about it.

When I arrived home from work today my son was watching the mainstream media coverage of The Russian ‘Hack’ and Obama’s payback to Putin.   Loud, hysterical debate over the politics of the event, hysterical discussion of ongoing Russian interference in US internal affairs and what we should do next emerged from his room.  What will Trump do when he takes office?  What can he do?   What did he say?     Jesse also watches  “House of Cards” and I wondered for a moment if they were so far ahead of the game that they somehow managed to simulate the events of the day.  But no.  This is our real president (for a few more weeks) and our real media (God help us).

One of the funniest bits was a commentator denouncing the dastardly Putin for continuing to interfere in US internal politics by not taking the bait and escalating the situation with a tit for tat expulsion of diplomats.   The commentator was truly distressed.  How dare Putin change the rules by refusing to play the game?!    Butt he truly funniest remark was a quote from a Republican who said we will just have to wait for Donald Trump to come to power so we can have a mature and competent president.   I felt like I just fell into a rabbit hole!   Alice, are you still here?

Seriously, this is nothing more than a continuation of  a series adolescent tantrums with which Barack Obama has been closing out the final weeks of his presidency.   First, he used and executive order to send dangerous anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons to the seething mass of mercenaries, terrorists and fanatical right wing revolutionaries in Syria after the liberation of Aleppo made it clear that they have already lost the war.   In doing so he may have prolonged the fighting and he surely guaranteed that more innocent people will die in this unnecessary war, fueled for years by the enemies of Syria and Syrian culture and Syrian sovereignty including the leading foreign policy makers in the Obama administration.

But, what’s the surprise?     Barack Obama is they guy who makes the final decision of who will live and who will die in deadly American drone strikes on Tuesday afternoons.   When the assassination of Osama bin Laden was planned and executed, the President himself sat with his CIA advisors in front of a laptop watching a live video of events.   Participating in Targeted killing apparently made him feel powerful.  Blowing a way a few people, people who are not even clearly identified; sounds like a serial killer to me – or an adolescent video game maniac.

A Relevant Personal Anecdote

When my son was about 7 years old, we used to rent video games and play them together.  In general, he had a major advantage as he practiced a lot.   But there was one memorable time when I won.   The game was mostly about blowing up military vehicles.    The graphics were simple – tanks, helicopters, and other military stuff, and a couple of avatars who to shoot at them.   You could also kill your opponent and take him out of the game for a few minutes.

The game was not bounded and we played long into the night despite the fact that he kept targeting my avatar which resulted in me being frequently timed out of the game for short periods.

Finally we had to quit as it was way past bedtime.   He said “I won!  I won!”   “No you didn’t”, I said as I cheerfully showed him the ending point-count where I was well ahead of him.   “No!  No!” he cried, “I killed you!  I killed you!”   “But”, said I, “I got the most helicopters and the most points.”

Obama’s Closing Scorecard

Image from Reuters

Yes i’m very concerned by the people Trump has surrounded himself with and some of the security plans he has put forward.

But, what  has Obama accomplished in the closing days of his reign?  Has he pardoned some of the whistle blowers and political prisoners whose lives were destroyed for telling the truth to the American people?  So far he hasn’t named any last hour pardons despite the fact that many requests have been made.

He did pardon a few low level drug offenders a few years ago to draw attention to the school to prison pipeline.   But his justice department didn’t prosecute a single case among the dozens of high profile police murders of black men during routine encounters, and hundreds of similar cases that didn’t make the headlines.

Yes, he allowed the UNSC (UN Security Council) vote against Israeli settlements.  And maybe it will do some good.  But he’s been in office for 8 years during which 2 ferocious attacks by Israel against Gaza killed thousands of civilians and destroyed irreplaceable infrastructure,  and never done anything to protect the Palestinians, not even shown an moment of compassion for their devastating plight; never issued a word on their behalf. Despite his apparent distaste for Benjamin Netanyahu, he did present the Israeli war machine with the largest assistance package in history.

Yes, he delayed construction on the Dakota pipeline and, at least temporarily averted a militant standoff in the face of a virtual uprising of the Native Americans who owned the land it would have traversed.  But,  It was the Army Corps of Engineers that decided not to put the Dakota pipeline through there, and they will most likely pick a new location (or reverse their decision) once Trump comes to office.

And now, in his final days in office, when he could show some dignity without any particular risk, he chooses to play the fool in the central role of a mass media farce.

Update – DHS/FBI technical proof of Russian Hacking

Wordfence CEO Mark Maunder published  a very technical analysis of the technical materials presented to prove that Russian hacking of the DNC computers and Hillary Clinton’s email server (and so, the election) did indeed occur.   The title, “US Govt Data Shows Russia Used Outdated Ukrainian PHP Malware” is likely a tongue in cheek assertion designed not to directly contradict the conclusions of the FBI and DHS.   The content however, takes the reader step by step through the procedures they used to analyze the data (a code snippet and some IP addresses) and the information yielded.   This is what they do at Wordfence.   They analyze PHP malware and write code to block attacks.  Not only are they good at what they do, but they have a great deal of data stored over the time that they have been doing it.

What the article actually shows (it does more than just ‘say’ it) in terms that any intelligent person can follow is that the code is an older version of a malware product openly sold on the internet from a site that claims to be Ukrainian, has a Ukrainian URL and a Ukrainian ip address.   It is a user friendly product that allows anyone with basic knowledge of websites to assume control of a site, and a recent upgrade, and is in common usage on the internet.   There are a bunch of IP addresses that come from the dark side of the internet with the number in the US being the next largest, then Russia and dozens of other countries, and owned by cheap internet hosting  services.  The IP addresses provided map to the most active attack sources in the Wordfence database.   Hmmmmmmm.

So, the technical info on which Obama based his decision to increase sanctions on Russia and expel Russian diplomat described an out of date version of a common malware openly available for sale on the internet and addresses that resolve to the same sites where most malware attacks on php websites are launched.   In his conclusions, the author wryly comments ” One might reasonably expect Russian intelligence operatives to develop their own tools or at least use current malicious tools from outside sources“.  Indeed one might expect that.   One might also expect the experts used by DHS to analyze the data to be competent to make a similar analysis. In light of the fact that this analysis was the basis for understanding (or creating) an international incident, one might think they would make sure they understood the bases of their determination.

Image from Huffington Post

What it looks like, dare I say it, is that, in need of a justification for President Obama to escalate tensions with Russia, DHS created the technical proof of malware for publication by using information reverse engineered from a slightly out of date security tool by a sloppy but modestly competent hacker.   I want to ask if they really thought they wouldn’t be caught, but the truth is that it doesn’t matter in today’s information space.    There enough people who don’t have a clue about the technology and don’t read the alternative (fake news) blogs that they didn’t need more than a place holder for their technical data.    The ‘technical’ data was provided was purely a justification for domestic consumption and clearly they don’t care what a few techno-geeks, the Russians and the rest of the diplomatic world think of their behavior.


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