Worse, there are almost no substantive measures in place to prevent Russia from meddling in the upcoming 2018 midterm elections.
“The one specious thing about Trumps lawyers strategy is that theyre saying theres no substantive focus on Trump when it comes to the collusion inquiry, that this is all about obstruction of justice, and that Mueller already has everything he needs from other witnesses and documents for the obstruction case,” said Andrew Wright, who served in the White House counsels office under President Barack Obama.
The problem, according to Rogers, is he needs specific authorization from the president to go on offense and directly disrupt the hackers operations. Without that, he sees no reason why Russia would stop trying to tamper with US elections anytime soon. Rogers did mention, however, that he already ordered some secret measures to defend against Russias interference before the next ballots are cast in a few months.
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If we dont change the dynamic here, this is going to continue, and 2016 wont be viewed as something isolated, Rogers told the Senate Armed Services Committee. This is something that will be sustained over time.
Michael Sulmeyer, a former top cyber official at the Pentagon, also feels the US should target Russias election hackers. You dont just wait here and play defense, you also go out and stop this from happening again, he told me.
Dems press Trump on response to Russian cyber threat
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders pushed back on Rogerss comments. Nobody is denying him the authority, she said during a White House briefing on Tuesday, adding that the administration thinks there are multiple ways to protect the 2018 midterms. We are looking at a number of different options.
But Rogerss testimony illustrates a broader problem: Trumps unwillingness to listen to Americas national security leaders — including military commanders — about the threat Russia poses to the 2018 midterms. In effect, Trump — whose presidential campaign is under investigation for alleged collusion with the Russians to tilt the election in its favor — is putting the integrity of multiple elections this year in danger.
Cyber chief says he hasnt received orders from Trump to disrupt Russian cyberattacks targeting elections
Neither President Obama nor the congressional leadership did enough to combat this threat before the 2016 election, but that doesnt absolve President Trump now, Matthew Waxman, a former senior official in the George W. Bush administration, told me. The measures taken to date fall far short of whats needed to deal with this threat.
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Other top Trump national security officials have rung the alarm bell over Russias likely future meddling.
There should be no doubt that Russia perceives that its past efforts have been successful, and views the 2018 midterm US elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations, Dan Coats, the nations top spy, told lawmakers on February 13. Frankly, the United States is under attack.
Why US cyber-warriors cant do anything about Russian cyber-meddling
In February, Voxs Emily Stewart asked nine experts how to stop Russias election interference in 2018. They offered three broad options.
The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his [Agalarovs] father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father, he wrote. This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its governments support for Mr. Trump.
Video: Robert Mueller Asking When President Trump Was Aware Of Stolen Democratic Emails | MSNBC
1) Protect election infrastructure. Trump should direct states to upgrade voter registration systems, voting machines, tally servers, and any other machinery that helps collect and verify votes. While federal officials have done a lot to improve the equipment since the 2016 election, the government could do a lot more.
We need to replace outdated systems, said Lawrence Norden, an elections expert at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, including replacing paperless electronic voting machines and conducting post-election audits to compare the paper records to software generated results.
2) Improve transparency in social media. The Russians used fake social media accounts to sow divisions in the United States among racial, ethnic, gender, and partisan lines — in part by paying for bogus advertisements. The government could put more pressure on Twitter and Facebook to better identify where the money for ad buys come from, according to Claire Finkelstein, an elections expert at the University of Pennsylvania. Similarly, these companies could also help users better identify what is — and is not — fake news.
3) Deter Russia from interfering again. One way the US could do this is use covert action and information operations to make it harder for Russian hackers to do their job, Glenn Carle, a former CIA officer, told Stewart. If the hackers have to spend more time fighting off American attacks, they have less time to meddle in the election. Further, Sulmeyer told me that the US could empower members of its military cyber forces to attack Russian hackers. That would directly punish the people who most prominently tampered with the US election process.
Meanwhile, following its initial message to Trump Jr. on September 20, WikiLeaks touched base with him again on October 3 and told him it would be “great” if the campaign pushed a story about Hillary Clinton published by “True Pundit,” a conservative-leaning outlet thats been known to spread junk news. According to the story, Clinton said she wanted to “just drone” WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
The problem is the Trump administration has done little in each of these areas — and other leaders have started to take matters into their own hands.
The special counsel Robert Mueller is asking witnesses in the Russia investigation whether President Donald Trump had prior knowledge about Russias plans to hack the Democratic National Committee, whether he was involved in coordinating the release of stolen emails, and why he endorsed Russia-friendly policy positions during the campaign, NBC News reported on Wednesday.
Here are just a few examples: The Boston Globe reports Virginia election officials have returned to using paper ballots; Pennsylvanias government wants election equipment to produce paper records of votes; and Georgia may also use paper instead of using touch screens.
There are good reasons for states to worry. Department of Homeland Security officials confirmed in a June 2017 Senate intelligence hearing that Russia targeted at least 21 states, and hackers probed their registration systems. However, only Illinois election officials testified to a breach — a malicious cyber-attack of unknown origin that hit the Illinois voter registration system and allowed hackers to access 90,000 voter registration records.
Were taking steps, but were probably not doing enough, Adm. Michael S. Rogers, who also directs the National Security Agency, said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Russian President Vladimir Putin, he added, has clearly come to the conclusion that theres little price to pay here and therefore I can continue this activity.
NSA Chief: US Response Hasnt Changed The Calculus Of Russian Interference
And according to a February 27 NBC News report, US intelligence officials found that Russian hackers compromised websites or voter registration databases in seven states ahead of the 2016 elections, although theres no evidence the intrusions altered any votes.
She pointed to a State Department announcement of $40 million to support public and private efforts to combat Russian and Chinese propaganda, and a meeting that Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen held with state, local and federal officials who are working on ways that we can best prevent things like this in the future.
Maybe the Russians Are Still Messing With Our Heads
Despite all this, the Trump administration hasnt seriously punished Russia. Experts tell me that this is cause for concern. A lack of blowback is a real serious problem. If theres no consequences for Putin, then hell continue trying to interfere, Douglas W. Jones, an elections expert at the University of Iowa, told me. Thats definitely a failure, he added.
He said that President Trump has given him no new authorities or capabilities to strike at Russian cyber-operations ahead of the midterms, but Rogers has directed Cybercoms National Mission Force, which protects the U.S. homeland from foreign cyberthreats, to begin some specific work.
But Trumps treatment of Russia in this case is part of a broader trend — one where he repeatedly lets Russia off the hook.
After Trump reluctantly signed legislation designed to punish Russia for its election meddling last August, he slammed the bill in a signing statement. He called it seriously flawed, and said that he could make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress.
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Then, in January 2018, Trump declined to impose the legislations mandated sanctions on individuals who do business with Russian military or intelligence targets. He did release a list — a report from the Treasury Department — of more than 200 influential, wealthy Russians and senior government officials as part of a naming-and-shaming exercise to put top Russians on notice.
Throughout his presidential campaign, Trump repeated over and over his desire for closer Washington-Moscow ties. But he also believes that Russia didnt interfere in the election — and that Democrats use the Trump-Russia narrative as an excuse for losing the election. Hes famously called special counsel Robert Muellers probe into, among other things, whether or not Trumps campaign colluded with Russia, a WITCH HUNT!
Trump is more concerned with deflecting the issue politically, Waxman, now a professor at Columbia Law School, told me.
Theres a lot to deflect. In January 2017, the US intelligence community assessed that Russia did meddle in the election, and favored Trump throughout. And on February 16, 2018, Mueller filed charges — including the charge of criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States — against 13 Russian nationals and three Russian groups for interfering with the 2016 US elections.
The indictments led National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster on February 17 to say that its now incontrovertible that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. Trump swiftly rebuked him on Twitter later that day.
Video: Putin concludes no price to pay for Russia cyber attacks, says NSA chief
General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only Collusion was between Russia and Crooked H, the DNC and the Dems. Remember the Dirty Dossier, Uranium, Speeches, Emails and the Podesta Company!
So, despite Trumps feelings, the threat from Russia in 2018 is real — which leaves experts wondering if the administration will eventually do something to stop it before the next elections take place.
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Most Americans think Trump hasnt done enough on Russian interference
I have to hope and believe that theyre doing something to keep us safe, Sulmeyer told me.