Russia’s alleged cyberspace intervention in the last US presidential elections to favor President-elect Donald Trump, President Barack Obama’s sanctions against Russia for the alleged breach, and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s amazing response to it have all produced sensational headlines around the world. But what the world does not know is that if our automated election system expert at the National Transformation Council had not alerted Trump to the perceived entry of the Philippine-based cheating system in the US, the election might have produced a totally different result.
But first, the breaking news. Obama, who is leaving the White House on Jan. 20 after two full terms, and a failed effort to make Hillary Clinton his successor and America’s first woman-president, has charged that, on orders of the Kremlin, Russian cyber operatives had hacked and released to the public the private emails of the Democratic National Convention, candidate Clinton and her staff in order to put Trump in the Oval Office. It was as much an attack on the President-elect as it was on the Russian president.
US more sinning than sinned against
It’s a novel proposition. The US is normally described as interfering in the domestic affairs of other nations, but never as the victim of interference by others. Daniel Ellsberg, Edward Snowden, Julian Assange may have caused the US more worries, but Russia is the first government it has sanctioned for allegedly interfering in its domestic politics—-and after Russia had lost its status as a world power at that.
Naturally, Putin denied the accusation. Trump promised to meet with the US intelligence community to inquire into its factual basis. But Obama seized the initiative, sanctioned Russia’s military intelligence agency GRU and FSB, the successor to the KGB; declared 35 Russian diplomats persona non-grata and gave them 72 hours to leave the US; and shut down two Russian compounds in Maryland and New York.
This sent Russian-American relations instantly plummeting to the basement.
In keeping with internationally revered practice, everyone expected Putin to retaliate. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recommended expelling 35 American diplomats from Moscow. Tit for tat. But in a completely unexpected move, Putin rejected all precedents. No American diplomats would be expelled from Moscow, he said; instead he would be honoring the children of American diplomats at a holiday celebration at the Kremlin.
It was a class act, and once again, Putin outplayed Obama. It happened earlier in Syria, where a ceasefire has been arranged through Putin’s, not Obama’s, initiative. For the past six years, Syria has been bleeding from civil war, and both Russia and the US, while supporting the opposing sides, are trying to help bring peace. Obama saw President Bashar al-Assad as the main problem and wanted him out, but did not want the US openly involved. So he brushed aside the advice of Secretary of State John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, former CIA chiefs David Petraeus and Leon Panetta, saying intervention would only worsen the war, encourage extremism, exacerbate human suffering and create a new quagmire for the US, like Iraq and Afghanistan.
Putin, on the other hand, saw the terrorists as the problem and directed Russian military air strikes against them. He saw that limited armed intervention could produce fairly satisfactory results, without costing his government too much. Supported by Iran, among others, this intervention finally forced the rebels to agree to a truce. Russia and Turkey, which support the opposing sides, moved the process forward, and US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov signed the accord.
Syrian truce a feather in Putin’s cap
The UN Security Council has welcomed the truce, and formal peace talks are scheduled to begin shortly in Kazakhstan. It was a victory for Russia, Iran and Assad and a missed opportunity for the US and its Arab, Israeli and Turkish allies. If the truce holds for seven days, US commanders are mandated to join Russia in operating against anti-Assad extremist forces in Aleppo and beyond. Aleppo is Syria’s largest city, where the bloodiest battles have been fought and Assad’s forces enjoy a commanding advantage over the rebels.
Even if the ceasefire should break down, and some rebel forces are threatening to break it, analysts point out that Putin has already won his point, namely, that it is the rebels, not the Assad regime, who present the real obstacle to peace. At the UN Security Council, the initiative is driven by Putin. This has earned him admirers around the world.
The possibility that DU30 would pick up the phone to congratulate Putin on his diplomatic coup is not remote. It is something he could do and milk to his advantage, in the same manner he had milked an earlier seven-minute congratulatory phone call to Trump. An auspicious occasion and excuse could be the current port call in Manila of “Admiral Tributs,” the large anti-submarine ship of the Russian Navy Pacific Fleet, which would be welcomed formally by Russian Ambassador Igor Kovaev and Philippine officials. Or DU30 might call Trump again to express his support in the face of what Trump himself has described as “a thinly veiled attempt” by an outgoing Democratic president to de-legitimize a Republican electoral triumph.
A midnight act?
While Obama’s action against Russia is premised on the integrity of the US electoral system, his timing is vulnerable to attack. Many analysts have pointed out that with a mere three weeks before he leaves office, Obama could have left the problem about the alleged Russian cyber attack in the hands of his successor. But that would be Trump, the reputed beneficiary of the alleged attack, so he chose to act on it himself.
Yet as Hillary’s primary campaigner, Obama was also a partisan in that election and hardly disinterested in an outcome that would be unfavorable to Trump, analysts point out. In our local political parlance, his action against Russia, with all its implications against Trump, was a “midnight act,” replete with negative consequences. In the Philippines, there is a specific law–although not always followed–against midnight acts.
As Filipinos and therefore outsiders, it is not our business to take sides in this conflict, and we dare not. But assuming Russian hackers were indeed involved in the US elections, as alleged, what Obama and DNC may not have known is that they were not the only ones who were involved or tried to get involved. Even the Venezuelans and the Filipinos apparently tried. They tried to get involved through Smartmatic, under a different name.
This was detected by our AES (or Smartmatic) specialist at the NTC, who shared the information with his colleagues after he had shared it with Trump at the height of the campaign. Our expert is a lawyer-accountant who has become one of the most reputable authorities on Smartmatic’s operations in the Philippines. In the runup to the May 2016 Philippine elections, he gave, some Catholic dioceses, professional associations, and other groups extensive briefings on how the 2010 and 2013 elections were rigged, and how the next elections could again be rigged.
In the runup to the US election, he tracked the entry of the sinister technology into the US, and emailed Trump on what he considered a threat to his candidacy. Trump acknowledged the information and promised to act promptly on it. If you had been watching the US presidential campaign on Fox News or CNN, this was the time you saw and heard Trump say that certain elements had decided to rig the election against him. He offered no details.
Apparently, Trump succeeded in neutralizing the threat against him and nothing more was heard about it. But Trump’s last email to our NTC colleague said, “win or lose,” he would like to meet with him. I am sure our colleague is excited about the prospect of such a meeting, but that would certainly be at the pleasure of the incoming US president.
A short backgrounder
How credible is this story? There is no reason to doubt it. But if you are a foreigner hearing about Smartmatic for the first time, you will need a little background.
Smartmatic is a Venezuelan firm. Since 2010, it has controlled the conduct and results of Philippine automated elections, in violation of the Constitution and the sovereign will of the Filipino people. Under the Constitution, the Commission on Elections is the only legal body authorized to conduct elections. However, the Philippine automated election system has been outsourced to Smartmatic. This produced a de facto President and other government officials in 2010, several de facto senators in 2013, and a de facto Vice President (under protest) and several senators again in May 2016.
In the last election, DU30 outsmarted Smartmatic, and took 38 percent of all the votes cast. This was well below the 50 plus one percent that defines the majority in any election, and should have triggered a second balloting in countries where a run-off is required between the first two candidates when nobody gets the required majority vote. But the massive propaganda buildup for DU30 and the prompt decision of his four rivals to concede the election to him encouraged the media to call his simple plurality a “landslide.”
Despite the notoriety earned by the Venezuelan firm, it has retained its multi-billion peso contracts with the Comelec because of powerful political connections. After the 2013 senatorial elections, in which all of then-President B. S. Aquino 3rd’s candidates won 60 percent of the votes even in areas where they were not known, there arose a move to oust Smartmatic from future elections.
To this, Smartmatic International quickly responded by bringing in a new international chairman with the strongest possible connections to the Aquino family.
Malloch Brown and Soros
This was Lord Mark Malloch Brown, who used to be a Deputy Secretary General of the UN, development specialist at the World Bank, a close associate of billionaire and currency speculator George Soros, with whom he had figured in the “color revolutions” in Eastern Europe, and one who had worked previously for Cory Aquino in her fight against Marcos.
Malloch Brown was head of the US-based Sawyer-Miller Group when he worked for Mrs. Aquino in her presidential campaign against Marcos in 1986. Aquino lost in that election, but Marcos was ousted in a civilian- and US-supported military revolt a few days later. Malloch Brown was reported to have written Aquino’s speech before the US Congress on Sept. 18, 1986, which moved the House of Representatives to propose a $200-milion increase in economic aid to the Philippines. However the Senate voted it down, with Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole saying it was too big an honorarium for a single speech.
In 2015, while the Comelec was supposed to thoroughly examine Smartmatic’s proposals for the 2016 elections, Malloch Brown had one private meeting with Aquino 3rd in Malacañang. This sealed the fate of the elections. Not all the technology at Smartmatic’s command, though, could allow Mar Roxas, Aquino’s presidential candidate, to overcome DU30’s commanding lead; it could only make his teammate, Maria Leonor Robredo, overtake Sen. Ferdinand (Bongbong) Marcos Jr., by a couple of hundred thousand votes, after leading her consistently by close to a million votes. Her election as vice president is now under protest before the Supreme Court en banc, acting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal.
Had Smartmatic succeeded in interfering in the US election, Obama might have had no cause to complain against Putin and Trump and being outplayed. Trump might have lost the election, and would have had no way of dealing with the Filipino or Venezuelan culprits. It is therefore not far-fetched to theorize that the NTC probably saved Trump from getting cheated.