Let’s assume for the moment that while we may not yet know the full extent of Russian efforts to attack our election systems and voter rolls, we do know that they did so and will make future efforts to repeat their invasions based on what they have learned from 2016. If this proposition seems reasonable, then the actions of the current administration are almost incomprehensible.
We have the official announcement that Chris Painter will leave the US State Department’s office of cyber issues at the end of this month. [TheHill] Why the coordinator for US cyber issue policy would be leaving isn’t clear, but what is worthy of note is that Secretary of State Tillerson says staffing is a matter of “leaning in” and that the Cyber Security unit of the Department of State was organized by Secretary Clinton in 2011 to organize disparate parts of the department which dealt with cyber crime, cyber-security, internet freedom, and the protection of dissidents’ digital security. [NextGov] One possible conclusion is that Tillerson is further truncating an already compressed organizational chart.
There are at least 50 reasons why more, not less, departments of the US government should be gearing up (not down) before the next round of elections: Alabama…Wyoming.
In September 2016 ABC News reported that Russian hackers targeted nearly half the US state voter registration systems and were successful in infiltrating four of them. By that time 18 states had reached out to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson for assistance with cyber-security. As of June 2017 reports were published saying that there may have been as many as 39 breaches of state cyber security in regard to voter rolls and/or election systems. [VF] The hackers may have targeted swing states, and voter registration officials.
This onslaught would seem to support the idea that MORE needs to be done by the US Department of State, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security (as well as the Election Assistance Commission) to help states prevent future hacks and assaults on our elections. At this point the obvious clashes with the ideological.
There is baked into Republican ideology the notion that more can always be done with less. The central concept appears to be that offices are filled to the transoms with unnecessary employees doing unimportant jobs. However, consider the manpower needed to assist 50 states with 50 disparate voting systems from attacks by foreign powers intent upon doing everything from malicious mischief to outright fraud. We might well ask not only who’s watching the hen house, but who’s even available to answer the phones?
The irony of the current situation lies in the 2016 Republican Platform which made some important promises:
“The platform highlights the recent passage of cybersecurity information sharing legislation and calls for a U.S. response to national state attacks that would include “diplomatic, financial and legal pain, curtailing visas for guilty parties, freezing their assets, and pursuing criminal actions against them.” It also calls for the U.S. to take an offensive strategy against cybersecurity attacks “to avoid the cyber equivalent of Pearl Harbor.” Supply chain issues, cyber workforce, cyber insurance, and the right to “self-defense” against cyber attackers were also included in the platform.”
Indeed, we’ve had the cyber equivalent of Pearl Harbor, but all we’ve heard from the current Republican administration is the disparagement of investigations of Russian interference as a Witch Hunt and Hoax, the suggestion that it would be “nice” if we had better relations with the Russians, talks about returning the Russian spy compounds in New York and Maryland, and now the Department of State will be operating without a coordinator for cyber-security.
What Americans should be advocating are:
- Full and adequate funding for the Election Assistance Commission, the only agency specifically tasked with testing and certifying election equipment in our elections.
- Adequate staffing and funding for cyber-security activities in the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Justice.
- Prioritization of cyber-security efforts to prevent attacks on our election systems by agents of foreign powers or the foreign powers themselves, as demonstrated by a nationwide effort to coordinate with all the election jurisdictions in this country to assist them in countering cyber assaults.
What happened in 2016 was a serious attack, a “Pearl Harbor” in GOP parlance, and the American public deserves to have this issue taken seriously.