Never in my lifetime, even growing up at the height of the Cold War, do I recall a time when Russian attempts to influence a U.S. presidential election was viewed as a possibility or a real fear. Welcome to 2016 when Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, despite disingenuous denials, seems set on working to either throw the November election to fellow authoritarian, Donald Trump, or to sow distrust in the election results. The mere fact that Putin favors Trump ought to send sane Americans running into the waiting arms of Hillary Clinton. A piece n the Washington Post looks at the investigations underway to thwart Russian efforts. Here are excerpts:
U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies are probing what they see as a broad covert Russian operation in the United States to sow public distrust in the upcoming presidential election and in U.S. political institutions, intelligence and congressional officials said.
The aim is to understand the scope and intent of the Russian campaign, which incorporates cyber-tools to hack systems used in the political process, enhancing Russia’s ability to spread disinformation.
The effort to better understand Russia’s covert influence operations is being spearheaded by James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence. “This is something of concern for the DNI,” said Charles Allen, a former longtime CIA officer who has been briefed on some of these issues. “It is being addressed.”
A Russian influence operation in the United States “is something we’re looking very closely at,” said one senior intelligence official who, as others interviewed, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter. Officials are also examining potential disruptions to the election process, and the FBI has alerted state and local officials to potential cyberthreats.
The official cautioned that the intelligence community is not saying it has “definitive proof” of such tampering, or any Russian plans to do so. “But even the hint of something impacting the security of our election system would be of significant concern,” the official said. “It’s the key to our democracy, that people have confidence in the election system.”
[T]he issue has “moved up as a priority” for the intelligence agencies, which include the FBI and Department of Homeland Security as well as the CIA and the National Security Agency.
After Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) ended a secure, 30-minute phone briefing by a top intelligence official recently, he was “deeply shaken,” according to an aide who was with Reid when he left the secure room at the FBI’s Las Vegas headquarters.
The Russian government hack of the Democratic National Committee,disclosed by the DNC in June but not yet officially ascribed by the U.S. government to Russia, and the subsequent release of 20,000 hacked DNC emails by WikiLeaks, shocked officials. Cyber-analysts traced its digital markings to known Russian government hacking groups.Members of both parties are urging the president to take the Russians to task publicly.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) in a statement urged President Obama to publicly name Russia as responsible for the DNC hack and apparent meddling in the electoral process. “Free and legitimate elections are non-negotiable. It’s clear that Russia thinks the reward outweighs any consequences,” he wrote. “That calculation must be changed. . . . This is going to take a cross-domain response — diplomatic, political and economic — that turns the screws on [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and his cronies.”
The Department of Homeland Security has offered local and state election officials help to prevent or deal with Election Day cyber-disruptions, including vulnerability scans, regular actionable information and alerts, and access to other tools for improving cybersecurity at the local level. It will also have a cyber-team ready at the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center to alert jurisdictions if attacks are detected.
Russia has been in the vanguard of a growing global movement to use propaganda on the Internet to influence people and political events, especially since the political revolt in Ukraine, the subsequent annexation of Crimea by Russia, and the imposition of sanctions on Russia by the United States and the European Union.
The Baltic states, Georgia and Ukraine have been subject to Russian cyberattacks and other hidden influence operations meant to disrupt those countries, officials said.