- - Monday, January 9, 2017

Faith, as the Bible teaches us, is the evidence of things not seen. Faith is the key to belief that surpasses all understanding, and now the secular intelligence chiefs tells us that trust is the key to understanding affairs of state, too. All the president’s men, or at least some of them, have now spoken what they insist is the last word on the Russian hacking scandal, concluding that Vladimir Putin plotted to choose the 45th president of the United States. If the chiefs of spies were to explain how they know that, they would probably have to kill us.

A report on Russian cyber-hacking, released last week by the FBI, the CIA and the National Security Agency pretended to end all doubts about who was responsible for the theft of communications from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign Chairman John Podesta. Their key judgment: “We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton and harm her electability and the potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”

They delivered the words, but not the evidence, “as the release of such information would reveal sensitive sources or methods and imperil the ability to collect critical foreign intelligence in the future.” In other words, “trust us.” But it’s up to ordinary Americans to judge for themselves whether trust is a good idea. Central to that is whether Mr. Putin had both opportunity and motive for mischief.

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Opportunity, clear enough. Russia’s expertise in cyberwarfare is well known, affording Mr. Putin the means of eliciting embarrassing information. What about motive? “Putin most likely wanted to discredit Secretary Clinton because he has publicly blamed her since 2011 for inciting mass protests against his regime in late 2011 and early 2012, and because he holds a grudge for comments he almost certainly saw as disparaging him,” the intelligence chiefs say.

Motive, clear enough, too. Mr. Putin’s long-range plans for resurrecting Russia as a superpower might have been threatened by Hillary Clinton as president. As secretary of State, Mrs. Clinton with her “Russian reset” was once the vodka toast of Moscow. With the United States committed to a friendlier tone and Barack Obama freshly bemedaled as “the peace president,” Mr. Putin felt free to send Russian incursions into Georgia, Crimea and Ukraine.

With President Obama “leading from behind,” the United States applauded street uprisings in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria, leading to Russian fears of an unstoppable cascade of revolution spreading beyond the Middle East to the borders of Russia itself. Mr. Putin’s assessment in 2011 that Hillary was responsible for orchestrating protests against Russian elections could easily have led him to conclude that Hillary in the White House would destabilize his regime.

Denied the facts, Americans can still piece together a reasonable explanation for the Russian hacking. The task remains to restore faith in a system that while hiding its work in the shadows, sometimes wielded “intelligence” for political ends. Democrats who in years past condemned the CIA for waterboarding captured terrorists now praise these same spies who accuse the Russians of defeating the candidate of all the Nice People. Republicans who led the nation to war in Iraq, based on fanciful misinformation, now question whether the intelligence agencies timed their explosive report to restrain and obstruct Donald Trump as he becomes the president.

Pondering the world through the prism of the clearly politicized intelligence agencies, ordinary Americans are smart to recall the old Russian proverb that was a favorite of Ronald Reagan: “Trust, but verify.”

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