In what is either an uncanny coincidence or an ominous warning, feed from the Russian government-owned cable station RT America briefly interrupted the online video feed of U.S. public affairs broadcaster C-SPAN Thursday afternoon. C-SPAN verified the interruption, noting it was being investigated, and that they are "operating under the assumption that it was an internal routing issue."
At around 2:30 pm Thursday, viewers of the C-SPAN online feed were surprised to see the RT America feed suddenly take over, and broadcast for about ten minutes. Footage of the takeover was posted to Twitter in fairly short order:
Here's the moment Russia Today took over the C-SPAN1 feed. Unclear what happened. RT aired for about ten minutes before C-SPAN1 came back. pic.twitter.com/mhWVgCoFxF
— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) January 12, 2017
Other Twitter users joined in to say that they, too, had witnessed the takeover, and C-SPAN put out a statement confirming it, with the assumption that the problem was internal and technical:
— Domenico Montanaro (@DomenicoNPR) January 12, 2017
It is possible that this was simply a technical routing glitch. If it was not a glitch but a deliberate act, it would be, as my colleague Melissa McEwan observed, a "warning shot over the bow" by Russian hackers, whose intrusion into a public service broadcast would be "a message about their ability to infiltrate the government. This wasn't CNN's feed that was interrupted; it was C-SPAN."
In any case, we are not likely to know the answer anytime soon. If this was, indeed, the result of a hack by a foreign government, C-SPAN certainly will not be at liberty to say so immediately.
If it turns out to have been an innocent mistake, however, it is still a stark and disturbing reminder of where America finds itself these days: We are about to inaugurate a president who is so badly and obviously compromised in his relationship to Russia that an incident like this is immediately suspect as a possibly intentional reminder of an antagonistic foreign country's intentions to disrupt our public institutions.