Tag Archives: Russian Interference 2016

If the Administration Won’t Pay Attention to Russian Interference Then We Must

The good news:  “Nevada is organizing cybersecurity under a new central hub, according to the Secretary of State’s Office, and is among more than 35 states sending officials to a cyber security incident response training at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center in Massachusetts later this month.” [LVSun 3/18]  That’s the good news…it’s more questionable to observe it’s been 530 days since the Department of Homeland Security first issued a warning about Russian interference in our national elections.

“The Obama administration on Friday formally accused the Russian government of stealing and disclosing emails from the Democratic National Committee and a range of other institutions and prominent individuals, immediately raising the issue of whether President Obama would seek sanctions or other retaliation.

In a statement from the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., and the Department of Homeland Security, the government said the leaked emails that have appeared on a variety of websites “are intended to interfere with the U.S. election process.” [NYT 2016]

Nevadans have been assured the state was not a direct target of election interference at the systemic level. [LVSun 3/18]  In other good news Nevada did address the cybersecurity matter in AB 471 the title of which was:

“An act relating to cybersecurity; creating the Nevada Office of Cyber Defense Coordination within the Department of Public Safety; providing for the powers and duties of the Office; requiring the Nevada Commission on Homeland Security to consider a certain report of the Office when performing certain duties; providing for the confidentiality of certain information regarding cybersecurity; requiring certain state agencies to comply with the provisions of certain regulations adopted by the Office; and providing other matters properly relating thereto.”

Translation from the legalese: Nevada took coordinating cybersecurity seriously enough to require state agencies to get on the same page.  This includes the Secretary of State’s office and its related election jurisdiction.

It would be nice if the federal government were taking this issue as seriously as the states.   A quick review:  On December 9, 2016 President Obama ordered a review of Russian attempts to “hack” the American elections. The president-elect dismissed the warnings from the intelligence community saying in effect these were the people who said Iraq had WMDs. [USAT]  On December 28, 2016 President Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats and closes Russian compounds in New York and Maryland.  Nothing happens officially to punish Russian agencies and individuals during the early months of the current administration.  On May 17, 2017 the Justice Department appoints Special Counsel Robert Mueller who is tasked with discovering if any US laws were violated on the part of US citizens and others.

As news of Russian interference trickled out in the press more interest in the issue came from congressional quarters, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) introduced S. 341 (Russian Sanctions Review Act) on April 27, 2017.  By July the interest increased to the point that HR 3364 passed the Congress almost unanimously, it was signed into law on August 2, 2017.  No action was taken by the executive branch to implement the requirements of the law immediately.

Indeed, it was March 15, 2018 before the Department of the Treasury issued enhanced sanctions on Russia, releasing the following statement:

Today, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated five entities and 19 individuals under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) as well as Executive Order (E.O.) 13694, “Blocking the Property of Certain Persons Engaging in Significant Malicious Cyber-Enabled Activities,” as amended, and codified pursuant to CAATSA.

The list of individuals and entities sanctioned was remarkably similar to the Mueller investigation list of those indicted for interference and illegal activities.

The current administration has not convened any cabinet level coordinated meetings to date regarding Russian interference in US elections, a sore point with Senator Benjamin Cardin who issued a minority report from his Senate committee. [pdfOne recommendation was prescient:

“U.S. and European governments should mandate that social media companies make public the sources of funding for political advertisements, along the same lines as TV channels and print media. Social media companies should conduct comprehensive audits on how their platforms may have been used by Kremlin-linked entities to influence elections occurring over the past several years, and should establish civil society advisory councils to provide input and warnings about emerging disinformation trends and government suppression. In addition, they should work with philanthropies, governments, and civil society to promote media literacy and reduce the presence of disinformation on their platforms.”

And, so we continue. The president congratulated Putin on the occasion of his reelection in an election characterized by eliminating competition and blatant voting fraud.  Nevertheless, the drip continues… reports of social media manipulation, stories about the machinations of the super PACs, Cambridge Analytical, Facebook, and so forth. We know that 21 states were “hacked” in 2016, we know that one was penetrated, and we know that Nevada — fortunately — wasn’t one of them. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t have a stake in this game.

We owe it to ourselves to keep track of state efforts to thwart foreign efforts to attack our voting security systems.  We need to think about the security of our state election rolls and related systems. We need to support efforts to improve the technical acumen of our state and local election officials.  We need periodic updates from our Secretary of State on steps taken by our government to upgrade our voting equipment, and secure our registration.  We also need to pay more attention to how social media is used and abused to cause disruptions to our politics and political discussions. We need to pay attention.

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Filed under elections, Nevada politics, Politics

Monitoring and Messaging: Russians Coming? They’re Already Here

Perhaps before we exchange “Hail to the Chief” with “Troika, from the Lt. Kije Suite,” it would be nice for the Oval Office oaf to consider giving his NSA the word to DO something about the current Russian interference problem:

While Rogers pushed back on the notion that the administration has done nothing to counter Russian interference, he acknowledged that the response so far—which has included sanctions passed by Congress—has been insufficient in deterring such behavior.  “They haven’t paid a price, at least, that has significantly changed their behavior,” Rogers said.

First, those sanctions passed by Congress on overwhelming (veto-proof) majorities, and signed into law (PL 115-44) last August 2nd, have not been implemented.  Not only have those sanctions not been enforced, the rationale borders on bizarre.

“So to recap, the head of America’s foreign intelligence agency (Pompeo) is suggesting Russia will attempt to do what it did in the 2016 election again in 2018 and that he hasn’t “seen a significant decrease in their activity.” But then the State Department announces that it doesn’t need to impose the sanctions that were meant to punish that behavior because the legislation is already serving as a deterrent?”  (January 30, 2018)

The administration’s insistence upon interpreting PL 115-44 as a “deterrent” rather than the punishment it was meant to be is reflected in Senator Dean Heller’s (R-NV) comments: “… the Administration announced that the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act is deterring malicious Russian behavior and new sanctions will not be imposed at this time.”  And, he’s happy with that.  To which we might ask: Deterring What?  Both the NSA and the CIA are telling us the Russians are happily carrying on without a significant change in their nefarious behavior.

But the Treasury Department issued a list of possible Russian citizens who might be targeted — yes, and by all accounts the list was simply a compilation from Forbes Magazine’s list of rich Ruskies.  A high school student with a tablet could have produced this! In a couple of minutes.  Somehow this doesn’t inspire a surfeit of confidence on my part.

But wait, there’s more —

The Russians are also pleased to be violating the sanctions against North Korea. Their actions could be directly approved by Moscow or the product of profit keen oil dealers, or both, but either way the Russians have been ignoring maritime sanctions on oil.  Surely the administration in D.C. would have something to say about this?

On Friday, the Trump administration issued a new set of sanctions that aimed to crack down on North Korea’s ability to profit from maritime activities. The new sanctions targeted one person, 27 companies and 28 vessels located or registered in countries such as China, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tanzania and Panama, among others. The sanctions did not target Russia. [Newsweek]

The “sanctions did not target Russia.”  It appears not only are we not imposing the sanctions enacted by Congress on Russia, we aren’t even imposing penalties on Russians for trading with North Korea.  However, at present Senator Heller seems content to “monitor” the situation.  At this juncture that could be tantamount to watching the bank robbers remove the safe deposit box contents in the hope they won’t take the loot out the door?

The administration’s various excuses for not only doing practically nothing about Russian interference, but doing even less to prevent further incursions, are becoming more tenuous by the day.   Those explanations make less sense than the constant barrage of tweets about witch hunts, and other aspersions cast at the investigation of any and all suggestions of Russian activities against the interests of the United States.  Each day passing offers both a challenge and a choice.

The challenge for Republicans in Congress is to maintain support for the White House without making the choice to be an enabler of extremely untoward conduct.

Senator Heller, and others of his party, are rapidly approaching the point at which their choice will serve to augment the attraction of their challengers.

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Filed under Heller, Nevada politics, Politics

A Brief Reference Desk on Russian Interference Conspiracy

It no longer matters what the Twit in Chief thinks of the investigations into Russian interference in our election systems and institutions.  He’s staked his territory and if in a major tweet-tantrum this weekend he could not bring himself to say “Putin,” then that should tell us all we need to know.  However, at the risk of redundancy, I’d like to make a list of links to reports and information which concern the Russian conspiracy to sow discord and distrust in our democracy.

At Number One:  Please look through the Cardin Report from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  Here is the link to the press release summation of the report.  Here is a link to the full report (pdf).  There are also links related to the report at the press release page. Those are highly informative.

At Number Two:  Please read the US District Court for the District of Columbia versus 13 Russians and related corporations. (Also in pdf)  If anyone is not yet convinced the Russians were serious about attacking the United States, this indictment should be very educational.

At Number Three:  The Center for American Progress issued its report on election security in all 50 states. No state received an A grade. The report illustrates precisely why the current situation should be taken very seriously.  Please keep in mind that we are no longer speaking of “meddling” or ‘collusion,” but of an outright conspiracy to disrupt our elections.

At Number Four: The January 6, 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment of Russian interference into US elections. (pdf) This is the public version of a highly classified report, so it is missing a significant amount of specificity.  However, it is still useful as an early guide to the nature of the Russian’s conspiracy.

I believe these are the best public sources of information I’ve found to date regarding the Russian conspiracy and the US response or lack thereof.   I’d highly recommend a perusal of them to those who have not already done so.

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Now A Warning? Same Old News About Russian Interference Without Any New Response

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.

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Filed under elections, Homeland Security, Nevada politics, Politics

Deflection, Distraction, and Destruction: Trump & the GOP

“…this is exactly what Trump does when he’s in trouble. He finds an enemy and punches as hard as he can.”  [WaPo]

Now, why is he in trouble? And,  what will happen today in Reno at the American Legion convention?  Additionally, who will be standing with the President at the closed to the public event?  The Nevada Independent, which if you’ve not already bookmarked you should, reports: (1) Adam Laxalt, Tea Party Darling will gleefully meet the President and has wrangled radical right wing VP Pence to his Basque food-fest; (2) Dean Heller, maybe not so much but then he won’t say — so what is new about the Heller rope-a-dope strategy? (3) Mark Amodei (R-NV2) showed up Tuesday and may have skedaddled? “A spokeswoman for Amodei did not respond to a follow up question as to whether or not the congressman would meet with Trump while the president is in Reno.” (4) Governor Sandoval appears to be adopting the Republican Gubernatorial Avoidance Strategy — meet him at the airport and then scamper off out of sight thereafter.  If the crowd is thinning, then why the Great Counter Punch?

What makes the President go into full attack mode?  What sends him off on tangents about white supremacy, statues of CSA ‘heroes,’ and “the Media?”  There’s a pattern, the deflection and distraction flare as the investigation of his connections to the Russians progress.

Why did he fire former FBI Director James Comey? Why was he upset with A.G. Jeff Sessions?  Why did he hammer Sen. Mitch McConnell? — Why the “profane shouting match?

“During the call, which Mr. Trump initiated on Aug. 9 from his New Jersey golf club, the president accused Mr. McConnell of bungling the health care issue. He was even more animated about what he intimated was the Senate leader’s refusal to protect him from investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to Republicans briefed on the conversation.”

What happened prior to August 9, 2017 that’s increased the need for deflection and distraction?

On August 1, 2017 PBS reported that the President dictated the message delivered by his son concerning the meeting at Trump Tower during the campaign with a small host of Russians who were very interested in “adoptions” (read: getting rid of the Magnitsky Act sanctions.)  The President’s assertions that the investigation is fake news and a witch hunt cracks a bit when it’s known that HE was aware of the trouble his son was in for taking and arranging that meeting.  On August 3, 2017 the President grudgingly signed the new Russian sanctions bill dictated by Congress. No fanfare, no ceremony, and two explanations or signing statements.  That was the same day the Wall Street Journal reported that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had impaneled a grand jury in the District of Columbia.

Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) spoke out in support of the Grand Jury, and Mr. Mueller’s continuing investigation of all matters related to Russian interference, and thereafter was rewarded by a “tweet storm” of abuse from the President, reported on August 7th.  The Special Counsel investigators raided the home of former Trump Campaign manager Paul Manafort on August 9.  They were looking for tax documents and foreign banking records, and since they didn’t merely ask Manafort’s legal team for them we can safely assume Mr. Manafort was (a) not as cooperative as his press comments made him out to be, and (b) in possession of things he might very well want to destroy before they landed in Mr. Mueller’s hands.

Events in Charlottesville, VA on August 12 and 13, 2017 intervened to capture public attention as Neo-Nazis and white supremacists took center stage, and as the President waffled about who might have been “responsible.”  Presidential commentary about “history” and “heritage” as if they are synonymous deflected and distracted from the continuing Russia probe.

Fast forward to August 22, 2017 on which it is revealed that the “Trump Dossier” re-emerges into the public consciousness.  Spokespersons for the President have tagged the dossier as “unsubstantiated,” “debunked,” or “unproven” as a general matter, without noting that individual contentions within the document are still under investigation.  The president of the company underwriting the dossier has now spent an entire working day with the staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee.    Interestingly enough, the President chose to spend a significant amount of his time during a campaign rally in Phoenix on August 22nd railing about “fake news” and the “unfair media.”

Those dismissing the dossier as “debunked” may be a bit premature.  The origin of the dossier investigation lies within the “never Trump” wing of the GOP, and after Trump secured the GOP nomination the Clinton Campaign was interested in the contents.  For a “debunked” piece of investigation it’s certainly had an impact, and the FBI now has information from the author about his sources, again as of August 22nd.  If some of the allegations in the Steele Dossier can be sourced, investigated, and substantiated, then the generalized “debunking” portion of the President’s defense can start to crack.  And, we wonder why he spent an inordinate amount of time denouncing the media on the evening of August 22, 2017?  Deflection and Distraction?

Perhaps now this paragraph concerning the cracks reported by the New York Times in the McConnell/Trump relationship makes more sense:

“During the call, which Mr. Trump initiated on Aug. 9 from his New Jersey golf club, the president accused Mr. McConnell of bungling the health care issue. He was even more animated about what he intimated was the Senate leader’s refusal to protect him from investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to Republicans briefed on the conversation.”

Why would the President become “more animated” about Senator McConnell’s purported failure to “protect” him?  Does the President demand Senator McConnell “protect” the President from the Senate Judiciary and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence?

Protect him from What?  Destruction?  The gamble for Republicans — from reluctant Senator Heller to enthusiastic Adam Laxalt — is whether to hitch their political futures to the distraction/deflection tactics of the current administration or cut loose and hope he doesn’t lead them to destruction.

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Filed under Amodei, Heller, nevada taxation, Politics, Republicans