WASHINGTON: The Senate Intelligence Committee report concludes that election systems in all 50 states were targeted by Russia in 2016. Their efforts more far-reaching than previously acknowledged. Interference that has gone largely undetected by state and federal officials. The bipartisan report warns that the U.S. remains vulnerable in the 2020 election.
The report, the first volume of several, came one day after the former special counsel Robert S.Mueller warned that Russia was moving again to intervene “as we sit here.”
The committee described “an unprecedented level of activity against state election infrastructure” intended largely to search for vulnerabilities in the security of the election system. In his testimony, Mr. Mueller sought to highlight the continued threat that Russia or other adversaries would seek to interfere in the 2020 elections.
He said many more countries “are developing the capability to replicate what the Russians have done.”
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Ironically, while the Intelligence Committee’s findings are bipartisan, their release on the same day Sen. Mitch McConnell, move to block consideration of election security legislation is curious. Despite warnings about a meddling Russia threat, McConnell argues that Congress has already done enough, such as granting $380 million for states to update their election systems.
Sen. McConnell, some argue, is trying to placate President Trump by opposing further Senate action. The president, whose 2016 campaign was contacted by Russia, seems to feel that discussion of Moscow’s role in the 2016 election holds the results of that election open to question. (Conway: Trump campaign ‘absolutely’ did not have contact with Russians)
Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says that the events in 2016 had blindsided the US:
“in 2016, the U.S was unprepared at all levels of government for a concerted attack from a determined foreign adversary on our election infrastructure. Since then, we have learned much more about the nature of Russian cyber activities and better understand the real and urgent threat they pose.”
Any solutions appear distant. Delaware has replaced its voting machines to assure paper backups that would provide a record in case of a breach. South Carolina’s state Election Commission said that it would introduce a paper-based voting system.
But Florida, known for its voting problems, seems to have made no changes in its vulnerable system. And New Jersey appears not to have the money to fix a voting machine infrastructure that has no paper backup to its balloting process, making a reliable audit impossible.
Beyond, this, U.S. intelligence officials fear that the federal government and the 50 states may be making the classic mistake of believing their adversaries will use the same techniques again.
Suzanne Spaulding, who oversaw election security at the Department of Homeland Security during the Obama administration, says,
“No one expects the Russians will use their old playbook in the next election.”
Other officials point to evidence that Iran, having seen how cheap and easy it is to create chaos in a Western democracy, is already experimenting with the possibility.
Coordination within the federal government, intelligence officials point out, has been lacking, in part, it is said, because President Trump does not acknowledge Russian interference in 2016. But then neither did Obama.
There are no reports of the president overseeing meetings about securing the American election system. The president eliminated the position of White House coordinator of cybersecurity last year.
Money to fight Russian interference in our election is scarce, as Sen. McConnell refuses to bring legislation to the floor of the Senate. The $380 million that Congress allocated two years ago has been spent. Efforts to provide the states with additional funds, which would surely pass in the Senate, remains bottled up by Sen.McConnell.
Indeed, Kentucky has been widely criticized for failing to secure its voter registration data.
A 2018 investigation by ProPublica found that the state’s online voter registration system used an outdated protocol that left its data open to manipulation. Furthermore, they did not block access by internet protocol addresses registered in foreign countries, a basic safety measure.
Across the country, states are vulnerable and without additional funds, our 2020 election appears an inviting target for Russian, Iranian, Chinese and other adversaries.
Louisiana election officials, for example, say they will not have a paper ballot system in place until well after the 2020 election.
Russia meddling, of course, is interfering in the political life of many Western democracies. It has allied itself with far-right-wing nationalist groups in France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, and other countries. Its goals are clear—-to weaken or eliminate NATO and the European Union, important steps in restoring as much of the way of the former Soviet Union as possible.
Vladimir Putin has convinced his far-right allies that his old days as a Communist are over and that he is now the defender of “Christian Europe.” This is quite a feat.
In his congressional testimony, Robert Mueller says,
“Over the course of my career, I’ve seen a number of challenges to our democracy. The Russian government’s efforts to interfere in our democracy is among the most serious. It wasn’t a single attempt. They’re doing it as we sit here. And they expect to do it during the next campaign. I hope this is not the new normal, but I fear that it is.”
All Americans, liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, should be concerned about a meddling Russia interfering in our electoral process. Sadly, for reasons which seem unclear, some in the highest reaches of our government are not. The 2020 election is vulnerable to interference. As the 2016 election was. And little is now being done to address the problem. Obama did not address it then. Trump is not addressing it now.
Vladimir Putin and leaders in Iran, China, and other countries must be pleased.