As final voting in the 2016 US presidential election approaches, questions continue to swirl around Wikileaks and its release of an email archive copied from the personal files of John Podesta, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair. It would be impossible, in the space of a single column, to fully consider the content and implications of those emails. There are, however, two relevant questions which those interested in the matter should carefully consider.
First, are the emails authentic and unaltered?
Clinton and her surrogates don’t want to answer that question. They stick to claiming that the mails haven’t been authenticated and hinting that they may have been altered.
The facts: Not all of the emails can be authenticated as to origin and content. But some can be, and some have been. As Bob Graham of Errata Security points out, many of the emails are digitally signed using the Domainkeys Identified Mail verification standard, which can be used to verify that email comes from the server it claims to come from and has not been modified since leaving that server. To date, no one has publicly demonstrated that the origin, or so much as a comma of the content, of any of the Podesta emails has been altered. So far as we can tell, they’re the genuine article.
Secondly, is the Podesta email hack an attempt by Vladimir Putin to affect the election?
Clinton, her campaign, and various media friends are working overtime to convince the public that the Russians are out to get her. In her final debate with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, Clinton claimed that 17 US intelligence agencies say so. Fact-checking site Politifact confirms her claim … sort of.
Those 17 agencies (speaking as one through the Homeland Security Department and Office of the Director of National Intelligence) don’t offer any EVIDENCE for their “confident” conclusion, just a broad claim that the email hacks “are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian directed efforts.”
Could the Russian government be behind the leak? Sure.
Is there any particular reason to believe the Russian government is behind the leak? That comes down to who you find most credible.
The US intelligence community, which claims to know that the Russian government hacked John Podesta’s emails, has a record. That record includes missing the 9/11 hijackers and claiming that Saddam Hussein was stockpiling chemical weapons. Its claim on this matter should probably be taken with several grains of salt.
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange says that the Russian government is not linked to the Podesta emails. Assange and Wikileaks have a record, too. Ten years. Ten million documents released. Number of times caught faking or lying: Zero. Love them or hate them, Wikileaks has proven itself a reliable and believable source.
Conclusion: The emails are almost certainly authentic and unaltered, and the Russian government is probably not behind their disclosure. If your vote is going to be affected by the Podesta emails, it should hinge upon their content, not upon doubts as to their authenticity or provenance.
Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.