The spying itself hasn't changed since the Byzantine Empire. It's not a matter of who is the target that makes this situation unique. It's the other things that have changed recently and rapidly.
Cyber-technology is more insidious and prevalent every year; the capability of both state and private spy agencies is no longer calculable or containable. The data that's available to be hacked is in unprecedented quantity and sensitivity. The information that's provided by various persons, institutions, government agencies and businesses in confidence, believing they're using a 'secure' server, can end up anywhere and be used for any purpose, by any private, national, military, news, law-enforcement, criminal, rebel or terrorist entity. The results of releasing information - however intended - will have consequences that nobody, including the perpetrator, can control or predict.
Most of us haven't come to terms with, and are incapable of understanding, the cyberscape in which we conduct our day-to-day affairs.
Politics on the global stage has never been as turbulent and unstable. Allow for the sheer number of players and size of populations when figuring the variables. Wars, sure, we've had lots of wars. But until now most of the combatants have had a clear idea of who their enemies were and why. Nobody's sure anymore, and it will only become more confusing. Even ideologies are impossible to label within +/- 20% accuracy. Nobody knows where and when the next extremist group will pop up, even in their own smallish nations, never mind complex federations, or what those factions hope to achieve.
Political party designations have been utterly divested of intelligible meaning; factions within parties are even murkier, and factions with no previous political history are impossible to track.
Paul Anthony - Remember, the voting machines were not hacked. The "integrity" of the voting system has not been breached.
Maybe not last fall. It's been compromised enough over the last sixteen years.
Some countries have been comfortable in the habit of believing themselves modern, enlightened democracies, and have no idea of the depth of corruption in their own political structures and electoral systems. Their citizens have relaxed into receiving input from communication media that have gradually diluted the useful fact to sensory stimulus ratio of their news content, until the audience would have to sit for 12 attentive hours in front of (e.g) CNN in order to get ten minutes worth of meaningful information.
And that's just for the immediate action required of them.
Trump-alikes are all over Europe, and probably on other continents whose activities are even less within our ken; no telling how many. They're not merely ignorant of how governance is supposed to work, or what the office they're after is supposed to entail, according to what rules; they have no intention of learning on the job : they're proud of not knowing their responsibilities. Most of them also advocate, and are supported by, violent paranoia.
There have been many incompetent heads of states before; there have been mad rulers; there have been rogues and outlaws. But they were generally the odd-man-out in an approximately functional world order, not the norm.
We are very quickly approaching a juncture where the leadership of every wealthy and powerful nation, as well as most of the insignificant ones, has a complete disregard for the future.