Obama’s former tech chief saw the hacked elections coming. He just expected more people to care.


Harper Reed told Recode that if this happened in another country, we’d be demanding a new election.

Former Obama tech chief Harper Reed isn’t surprised that the U.S. elections were hacked by a foreign power. Heck, he predicted it back in 2013.

If anything, Reed is surprised by how apathetic the American people have been about it.

What, he asks, would our reaction have been if the same thing had happened in a small country whose elections the U.S. had been overseeing?

“If this was another country, I think we’d be demanding another election,” Reed told Recode’s Ina Fried on Monday.

Reed, who now works at PayPal, chatted about the election as well as the larger forces that have brought Donald Trump to power.

Here’s an edited transcript of his interview.

The electoral college is voting today. What should people do with the information that the election was hacked?

They should be thinking about who did the hacking. Let’s say we were a peacekeeping force in some small country that most people had never heard of. And we were there to host a peaceful election, and we then found out a bunch of stuff was hacked. We probably would push to have another election to make sure that would be fair.

This is my question, not for Democrats or for Republicans, but for the American people:

How do we ensure we have fair elections if we are not willing to look at who was doing the hacking, or if we are not willing to listen to the government institutions who are saying who was doing the hacking?

Donald Trump won the election. I think that’s true. I also think there was interference.

If this was another country, I think we’d be demanding another election.

What was your reaction when you started hearing what was going on with this election?

I was obviously very concerned. I wasn’t surprised, not in an “I told you so” but in a “yes, of course this thing would happen” way. It’s part of the world.

I worry about the authenticity of the leaks, and I would worry about that regardless of who [was being hacked], even if the leaks were from our opponent. It would be very easy to insert false info into the leaks.

How surprised would your 2013 self be with what has gone on?

I don’t think I would be very surprised, to be honest. I tweeted in August 2015, “Don’t underestimate Donald Trump.” I think we have a real situation on our hands where globalization and technical automation are displacing lots of people. That, combined with the fact that lots of people have forgotten about fascism, creates a very good opportunity for a populist candidate to achieve success. I actually don’t think this is unique to the U.S. We are seeing this across Europe. We are seeing this in many places.

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My biggest worry is that no one seems to notice that we are not going to stop the technical progress that is going to continue to displace people through automation.

As a person that is building technical products, [it’s clear that] our goal is to disrupt and to automate everything. That’s our whole goal. This is a tricky problem and I don’t know that we have an answer.

I do know that having a lot of division is not going to help. Just throwing it out there, but spray-painting swastikas on synagogues doesn’t help either.

In 2012, you were running the technical side of Obama’s campaign. Now youre at PayPal. How did that happen?

After the election, were started a company immediately. It was called Modest, and it was about the next iteration in mobile commerce. We did that for three years. Luckily, PayPal agreed this was next generation of mobile commerce and acquired our company.

Where is there more hacking — in commerce or politics?

I think we have interference on every level. How many smart people have sent an email that says “don’t open that least email (that came from me)”? Every single person has been hacked in one way or another. Everyone has had a problem.

Very smart people are often trickled by hackers, by phishing. I don’t exclude myself from that. It’s about being smarter than a hacker. Not about being smart.

If you want to see more from Harper Reed, here’s the 2013 Ted Talk in which he predicted that foreign election hacks were coming:

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