No, it’s NOT okay. Merely because it isn’t thought the Russians actually changed any voting results doesn’t mean things are hunky-dory for the 2018 elections. Today’s ‘news’ is in reality old news. Consider the following excerpts from times gone by:
September 22, 2016 – “Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Adam Schiff, ranking members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, issue a joint statement declaring that based on information they received during congressional briefings, they believe that Russian intelligence agencies are carrying out a plan to interfere with the election. They call on Putin to order a halt to the activities.” [CNN]
September 29, 2016 – “There have been hacking attempts on election systems in more than 20 states — far more than had been previously acknowledged — a senior Department of Homeland Security official told NBC News on Thursday. The “attempted intrusions” targeted online systems like registration databases, and not the actual voting or tabulation machines that will be used on Election Day and are not tied to the Internet.The DHS official described much of the activity as “people poking at the systems to see if they are vulnerable.” “We are absolutely concerned,” the DHS official said. “The concern is the ability to cause confusion and chaos.” [NBC]
Fast forward to 2017, and the story remains essentially the same, albeit with more details. In September 2017 the Department of Homeland Security finally got around to officially notifying the states they’d been hacked.
“The Department of Homeland Security said earlier this year that it had evidence of Russian activity in 21 states, but it failed to inform individual states whether they were among those targeted. Instead, DHS authorities say they told those who had “ownership” of the systems — which in some cases were private vendors or local election offices.” [NPR]
Yes, it took ten months for the Department of Homeland Security to officially tell the states what was going on. And now…. this is “news:”
February 7, 2018: “The U.S. official in charge of protecting American elections from hacking says the Russians successfully penetrated the voter registration rolls of several U.S. states prior to the 2016 presidential election.
In an exclusive interview with NBC News, Jeanette Manfra, the head of cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security, said she couldn’t talk about classified information publicly, but in 2016, “We saw a targeting of 21 states and an exceptionally small number of them were actually successfully penetrated.” [NBC]
Indeed, this isn’t coming as news to the 18 states that volunteered for the free cyber-hygiene scans offered by the Obama Administration’s Department of Homeland Security in 2016. However, a person would have to wonder what happened to the two states which refused the free scan offer, and why we keep getting what is at best a repetition of the same warnings issued at least a year ago.
And what has happened since November 2016? It would be far easier to track what has NOT been done. For example, there has not been a single cabinet level meeting concerning the issue of Russian interference. There has not been a single report issued by the current administration issued on the subject of Russian interference. There has been nothing done by the current administration to implement the sanctions overwhelmingly enacted by the 115th Congress against the Russians for their interference — their continuing interference. And yes, the Russians did in fact hack into some voter rolls. [TheHill] And yes, the Russians are still at it. [NYT]
How do we know this? Because CIA Director Mike Pompeo says he’s reasonably certain the Russians will meddle in the 2018 midterms. [BBC/Politico] The Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says we’re going to be a target in 2018 (and there’s probably nothing we can do about it.)’ [WashExam]
So once more it’s time to refer to the only comprehensive report on Russian interference issued from Washington so far — the Cardin Report:
“A Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democratic staff report released Wednesday and commissioned by U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the Committee’s ranking member, details Russian president Vladimir Putin’s nearly two decades-long assault on democratic institutions, universal values, and the rule of law across Europe and in his own country. The report comes one year after Senator Cardin introduced the Counteracting Russian Hostilities Act of 2017, which served as the basis for the sanctions package signed into law last August, and makes a series of recommendations to adequately bolster U.S. and European defenses and counter the growing Kremlin threat to democratic institutions.”
It is well past time for the administration to take action. One obvious suggestion would be for the administration to do something more efficacious than publishing a list of Forbes’ Richest Russians and apply additional sanctions as a response to continuing Russian interference in our political systems and institutions. “Name and Shame” has obviously NOT stopped Russian efforts. As the Cardin Report points out, the timidity of the US reaction to Russian activities as compared to actions taken by European nations has a source, in the White House:
“Despite the clear assaults on our democracy and our allies in Europe, the U.S. government still does not have a coherent, comprehensive, and coordinated approach to the Kremlin’s malign influence operations, either abroad or at home. Although the U.S. government has for years had a patchwork of offices and programs supporting independent journalism, cyber security, and the countering of disinformation, the lack of presidential leadership in addressing the threat Putin poses has hampered a strong U.S. response.” [CardinReport pdf]
So, the British have publicly chastised the Russians for their meddling and have taken steps to secure their cyber-systems and election procedures. The Germans upgraded the cooperation between the government and the campaigns, taken stronger measures against bots and trolls, and issued strong warnings of consequences for any additional Russian games. The Spanish cracked down on Russian based organized crime groups, especially those seeking to use the country for money laundering. The French took direct action to address cyber-hacking and smear campaigns. The Nordic states have adopted a “whole society” approach to address Russian propaganda and cyber efforts. The Baltic states have employed public information campaigns, strengthened cyber-security systems, and reduced their energy dependence on Russian sources. [Cardin] If most of our western allies can take active measures to address Russian interference, the question remains — Why has the US done so little? The Cardin Report conclusion that the lack of presidential leadership has not been helpful takes on more credibility.
There are some activities good old Average Americans can do to help rectify this situation. (1) Get informed. Read the Cardin Report. (2) Evaluate the suggested steps the US could take to directly confront Russian interference. (3) Contact Senators and Representatives to let our lawmakers know that the public IS interested in Russian operations in the US. (4) Contact those Representatives to tell them the American public (and their constituents in particular) insist the administration implement and enforce the sanctions enacted by Congress.
Perhaps there’s a sufficient number of phone calls, post cards, e-mails, and constituent meetings which will prevent the Russian Meddling from being an annual event in the American press, each time reminding us that nothing has been accomplished thus far to prevent Russian activities to sow discord, dissension, and advance the demolition of American political institutions. We should not only hope so, but also work to make this happen.