A long time ago, writer Jonathan Swift wrote: “Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it, so that when men come to be undeceived, it is too late.”
And that, it seems, has been one of President-elect Donald Trump’s most effective tactics whenever he is faced with a problematic issue. If you sow enough doubt into an already complex and unclear situation, however serious, it will equalize the playing field and make everyone just confused enough that everything seems up for grabs.
And using social media — most exclusively Twitter — to get that loaded kind of messaging out amplifies it exponentially. So what Trump is doing right now around Russian hacking will surely be an epic case study in some political class in years to come, titled “Tweet This, Suckers!”
That happened last night when Trump lobbed this doozy about the Russian digital interference with the U.S. election that most intelligence agencies and many experts agree occurred.
The "Intelligence" briefing on so-called "Russian hacking" was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 4, 2017
The use of quote marks alone is genius, undercutting both the intelligence efforts and the very reasonable notion that a government controlled by Vladimir Putin could possibly be up to no good. But the real coup de grace is raising the unproven allegation that a delay in a briefing is suspect. “Very strange,” in the language of conspiracy theorists everywhere, is signaling without any pretense at all that the spooks of the CIA and FBI are up to their usual cloak-and-dagger high jinks.
I said it once and I will say it again, Trump is a Twitter savant.
Still, and not to let facts get in the way of a good story, even the meeting time Trump alleged was untrue. Nonetheless, because beating a dead horse seems to work for him, Trump then followed up this morning by seeming to back WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, a man he had called for the jailing of only a few years ago.
Julian Assange said "a 14 year old could have hacked Podesta" - why was DNC so careless? Also said Russians did not give him the info!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 4, 2017
This tweet came after a weekend of whoppers, all borderline outlandish and all without a shred of evidence, but all designed to protect the integrity of Trump’s not-yet-started presidency and thwart the damage from too many people believing he got his job in part due to the people who run the Kremlin.
Yeah. Make America great for Russia again does not have quite the same ring to it.
Trump continued to try to undercut substantive worries about Russian interference in the election by essentially saying no one — including intelligence agencies, all of whom posit that Russia did engage in hacking — can ever know exactly what happened.
“I just want them to be sure, because it’s a pretty serious charge,” said Trump about the CIA, the FBI and everyone else with cyber expertise, who all agree Russia was involved. “I think it’s unfair if they don’t know.”
Except him apparently, because having zero tech background except a peculiar talent for writing mean tweets qualifies him as a cyber security expert.
No, really, he is, according to him. “And I know a lot about hacking. And hacking is a very hard thing to prove. So it could be somebody else,” he said, all duded up in a tux, looking like James Bond. “And I also know things that other people don’t know, and so they cannot be sure of the situation.”
But Trump did not stop at that, sounding like your really ill-informed uncle at the holidays.
“I don’t care what they say, no computer is safe,” said Trump, who has previously claimed the hack of DNC servers could have been done by “someone sitting on their bed weighing 400 pounds.”
Then Trump dragged his 10-year-old son — whose tech skills he has touted before — into the controversy. “I have a boy who’s 10 years old; he can do anything with a computer,” he said about Barron.
And then even more, giving out a tip on how to avoid potential hackers like, say, his own child: “You want something to really go without detection, write it out and have it sent by courier.”
Courier? Courier? Let me just express my incredulity again: Courier?!?!!?
By the way, couriers can be hacked — see the Revolutionary War — pretty easily, especially if they are riding horses.
Unpacking all of the tweets in toto — which is how it seems Trump is going to interact with the world (see GOP ethics mess, see locker room talk, see all of it) — would require me to hire all the TaskRabbits on the planet.
Which is why it would be nice if some well-regarded cyber tech experts from Silicon Valley — most of whom have had deep experience fighting and trying to fend off incursions from both Russia and China — could also jump more prominently into this fray to help sort out the situation.
It’s not the sort of thing they would do, of course, preferring to interact with Trump behind closed doors, such as sharing their tech knowledge at their meeting with him recently.
And with national security concerns at stake, much of what really happens with government-sanctioned hacking always does stay behind the scenes, with few qualified people willing to comment about what has become a significant issue and will become even more so.
For the most part, and as usual, there has been very little said by the major techies who’d certainly know that 400-pound teen hackers were not behind any of what happened in the election.
Kudos then to this geek on Twitter, who managed to dismiss Trump’s tweets in a series of his own.
Is it possible this was all a 14 year old? Sure. Also possible I'm a bridge salesman, and boy have I got a great deal for you today.— Pwn All The Things (@pwnallthethings) January 4, 2017
I get it. The prospect of getting mired in all the politicization of what should never be political — foreign governments trying to control the fate of the U.S. — is daunting. As Mark M. Lowenthal, a former senior CIA analyst, told the New York Times recently: “This is the one place you don’t want to be as an intelligence officer: The meat in someone’s partisan sandwich.”
And neither does Silicon Valley, which is perhaps the one industry that could actually shed some much-needed light on this already confusing situation made more confusing by Trump’s incessant tweeting. (That I am writing that sentence about a U.S. president is surreal enough.)
In that case, one would hope that tech companies will push hard on legislators to investigate further into what happened and, more importantly, help them understand what could happen next.
GOP senators like John McCain and Lindsay Graham have been relatively vocal in expressing their concerns about Russian hacking despite well-founded worries about retaliation from Trump. Giving them more support, expertise and information that would help should be a top priority of tech leaders and quickly.
If not, the loudest voice in social media tends to win. And we all know who that is.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.