According to lawmakers and independent analysts interviewed by the Washington Post the United States “has done little to protect itself against a renewed effort to influence voters in the coming congressional midterm elections.”
It’s been over two years since Russia first interfered in the American presidential campaign and although some changes have been made in voting systems, many vulnerabilities still exist, and some have even grown worse.
Experts say that state voting systems are more protected than they were two years ago due to efforts by state and federal authorities. However, they also say that “Russian efforts to manipulate U.S. voters through misleading social media postings are likely to have grown more sophisticated and harder to detect, and there is not a sufficiently strong government strategy to combat information warfare against the United States.”
It is certainly good news that voting systems are not being targeted for hacking by Russians to the extent they were in 2016.
But “ technology companies in general have struggled to curb the flow of disinformation and hacking and have received little guidance from the U.S. government on how to do so.”
Senate Intelligence Committee vice chairman Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) said Wednesday:
“Twenty-one months after the 2016 election, and only three months before the 2018 elections, Russian-backed operatives continue to infiltrate and manipulate social media to hijack the national conversation and set Americans against each other. They were doing it in 2016; they are still doing it today.”
Clint Watts, a former FBI agent and disinformation expert for the Foreign Policy Research Institute, said the lack of presidential leadership on the issue means the efforts of agencies to mount a coordinated government action will not be effective.
“If you can’t talk about Russia around the president, I don’t see how you get out in front of this, given that they’re the ones doing most of the foreign influence,” Watts said.
President Trump questioning the conclusions of the U.S. intelligence community about Russia’s disinformation and hacking campaign has set back government efforts to take steps to combat Russian influence.
With the midterm elections looming, U.S. officials say the overall Russian effort is comprehensive and includes efforts to hack into the emails of politicians and creating fake social media account to exploit racial, social, cultural and religious divisions in society.
U.S. officials have expressed the most worry about foreign disinformation and about Russia’s determination to again seek to influence American voters through social media.
“This issue goes far beyond elections,” Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on Wednesday. “We’re fighting for the integrity of our society. And we need to enlist every single person.”
Economic sanctions have been imposed on Russians to try to deter future influence campaigns and cyberattacks, but those actions have seemingly had little effect.
Some senators have also proposed new sanctions, hoping to stop Russia’s growing influence.
Another factor complicating their efforts is that the battleground is in the private sector — an area that is off-limits to intelligence agencies.
“What the Russians are doing is called information war. What the Americans are doing is called free speech. And you can’t square those circles very well,” said Steven Livingston, a professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University.
On Tuesday, at a cybersecurity conference in New York, Vice President Pence and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen both warned Russia not to interfere in this year’s elections.
“The United States will not tolerate any foreign interference in our elections from any nation-state — not from Russia, China, Iran, North Korea or anyone else,” Pence said.
Nielsen said: “Let me be clear. Our intelligence community had it right. It was the Russians. They know that. We know that. And we cannot let it happen again.”
Trump administration officials are now talking tough about Russia, but unless more is done very quickly, all of their talk will have little impact. Our democracy is still at risk and our governments at all levels need to do much more than they are doing now.