Vladimir Putin
Credit: Rossiya-1/Kremlin

It’s happening again.

Leading French presidential candidate Emanuel Macron has been the target of a massive theft of his emails which were anonymously leaked this weekend, in an apparent attempt to help far-right National Front candidate Marine LePen. This comes in addition to alt right 4chan hoaxers spreading fake emails alleging that Macron had offshore bank accounts. The hacks come just a few days in advance of the French presidential election–a two-day period in which by law no French media may report on the election, allowing time for sober contemplation by the voters. But this may be a double-edged sword that plays into the hands of the crooks, because social media will buzz about the hacks even as traditional media remains silent.

Macron’s lead over LePen in the polls is commanding, but even so the release of stolen documents could easily damage him in advance of upcoming parliamentary elections.

It is well known that Russian hackers, having successfully targeted the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign to assist Donald Trump, have made Macron their primary target in order to promote LePen. The motivations are obvious: 1) weaken and humiliate Western democracies; 2) weaken and destroy the European Union; 3) advance the cause of conservative, religious white supremacy and plutocratic authoritarianism worldwide. All of these goals align with Putin’s self-interest, and promoting Nigel Farage, Donald Trump and Marine LePen provides an excellent opportunity to further those goals. In the United States, the #MacronLeaks hashtag was begun first by obscure alt-right American trolls, who were quickly amplified by a number of twitter bots notorious for promoting Russian propaganda sources. Quelle surprise.

Despite some in the conspiracy theory crowd, it’s not really at issue whether Russia was behind the hacks. They almost certainly were. It’s not at issue whether Wikileaks and similar organizations are in cahoots with Russia, either out of direct self-interest or some misguided hatred of global internationalism. They almost certainly are.

The question is what to do about it. Whether or not one likes all the political and economic stances of Hillary Clinton, Emanuel Macron, Angela Merkel or the pre-Corbyn Labour Party (and there are certainly many valid criticisms to make from the left, particularly regarding coziness with big finance), there is no question that the liberal West faces an unprecedented challenge from nihilist and anti-internationalist collectives aligned with state-sponsored Russian spies and cyber-criminals. These malevolent actors seek no less than a slow-motion coup against both liberalism and progressivism, in order to remake the West into a theocratic, white supremacist, neo-nationalist and neo-fascist disjointed collective of warring nation-states. This must be resisted at all costs.

Some have suggested that nation-states take action against Russia in response. In principle this is a good idea, but it’s not clear just what could be done against Russia without the risk of a globally disastrous hot war. Increased sanctions and freezing of bank accounts would be useful, but the effort on the part of Western states would have to be unified. Certainly, the Trump Administration isn’t going to punish Russia for its actions so far, or for its support of the very authoritarian neo-fascist candidates Trump himself admires.

The hacking problem isn’t actually so dissimilar from similar espionage conflicts in the Cold War, or even from the principle of nuclear deterrence. Counter-espionage is the best antidote to foreign spies, and the principle of mutually assured destruction via the nuclear triad remains the best weapon against the actual use of nuclear weapons. We know that the United States reportedly used counter-hacking against Iran via the Stuxnet virus, and against North Korea after the Sony hacks. It is part of the retaliatory playbook.

In this case, the likely best response to continued hacks and leaks of liberal and progressive Western politicians is to effectively do the same against the alt right. If we’re going to live in an age of radical forced transparency in which a politician’s private emails can come to light at any time, then let what’s good for the goose be good for the gander. Had both John Podesta’s and Steve Bannon’s private emails been released to the public, the sum total of the ugliness would have likely resulted in a Clinton win. If Macron’s emails must see the light of day, then so should Le Pen’s.

If the United States under Trump won’t move forward for obvious reasons, it must fall to European and Asian agencies to do so. If Russia and Assange know that their own candidates’ dirty laundry will be similarly exposed, then perhaps their incentive to play these games will be reduced.

David Atkins

Follow David on Twitter @DavidOAtkins. David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.