Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell are leaving America vulnerable to attack from hostile foreign adversaries


The House Intelligence Committee is expected to hold a hearing on deep fake videos on June 13.

A doctored video that appeared last month of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, was an example of a “cheap fake” and easily shown to be falsified. But Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said when President Trump pushed out the video on his Twitter account it showed that the United States was “on treacherous ground.” Russia Could Unleash Fake Videos During Election, Schiff Says:

Mr. Schiff said he was particularly worried about the effect of falsified videos, known as deep fakes. Such videos could be easily introduced into social media, where they will spread rapidly.

A carefully crafted, controversial fake video, Mr. Schiff said, would be “hugely disruptive and hugely influential.” The risk is amplified because if a video is executed carefully, it can be hard to both prove it is fake and show where it came from.

Deep fakes are particularly dangerous, because even if avoided by the mainstream media, they can have an impact on the electorate. In a partisan and divided country, Mr. Schiff said, some so-called experts will go on one television channel and proclaim the videos authentic while other experts appear on other networks and declare they are fake.

“The public will be left to doubt,” Mr. Schiff said.

Even fake videos can have a pernicious effect, he said. “You will never completely shed the negative lingering impression you have,” he added.

Congress has not passed any major election reforms since the Russian attacks in 2016. “How is that possible?,” you ask. Election security bills in the Senate are hitting one big roadblock: Mitch McConnell:

While the issue of Russian collusion is very clearly politically charged, concerns about election security and foreign interference have historically been more bipartisan. As Mitch McConnell has made clear, however, that’s no longer the case.

Although several Republican-controlled Senate committees are still trying to address potential meddling by foreign adversaries — the Judiciary Committee approved two election security bills last weekthe Senate majority leader now says he won’t even bring election security bills up for a vote. It’s a position McConnell took last year, and one he’s standing by as pressure has ramped up to consider reinforcing US defenses ahead of 2020.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), chair of the Senate Rules Committee, which oversees aspects of election administration, laid out McConnell’s opposition during a hearing last week. “I think the majority leader just is of the view that this debate reaches no conclusion,” Blunt said, noting that he didn’t see the point in considering any election security bills in committee if they simply weren’t going to go anywhere.

McConnell’s decision is likely driven by a few factors: He’s acknowledging Trump’s aversion to the subject — which the president sees as too closely tied to questions about the outcome of the 2016 election — and he’s, once again, taking the heat for his caucus. What’s more, McConnell has argued that election security bills could get the federal government too involved in states’ efforts.

Just so we are clear: America’s 2016 election was attacked by a hostile foreign adversary to sway the election to their preferred candidate and cultivated Russian asset (as the Mueller report confirms, the Russians offered assistance and the Trump campaign sought their assistance). Congress has done nothing to respond to Russia’s Gerasimov Doctrine — a new theory of modern warfare that uses nonmilitary means of achieving political and strategic goals which, in many cases, have exceeded the power of force of weapons in their effectiveness — or to guard against these attacks from occurring again.

It’s as if America failed to respond to the asymmetrical terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001. What would these same Republicans have said about that? The only difference here is that on 9/11 nearly 3,000 Americans died in horrific televised images of destruction that are seared into our memory.

Republicans have completely abdicated their duty to defend America from Russia’s “dezinformatsiya” information warfare in social media, or from other hostile foreign adversaries. They are consciously leaving America vulnerable to future information warfare from hostile foreign adversaries, which is an invitation for such attacks.

If we accept that Russia’s Gerasimov Doctrine can be just as destructive and effective as armed conflict in classic warfare, then it is by no means a stretch to call this what it is: “adhering to their Enemies, [or] giving them Aid and Comfort.” Some dare call that Treason. It most certainly is unpatriotic, if not traitorous.

Russian attacks on the U.S. election infrastructure in 2016 were even more serious than reported at the time, recent disclosures show, and intelligence officials say they are bracing for more aggressive attacks from a wider array of foreign adversaries in 2020. Republicans Abandon Election Security:

Yet instead of moving to shore up the nation’s vulnerable voting machines and databases, the Trump administration is sabotaging efforts to enhance election security at every turn. Trump’s determination to portray Russian interference as a hoax has made it taboo for members of his own administration to even talk about foreign meddling, and has derailed the leading bipartisan election security bill on Capitol Hill.

To make matters worse, Republicans have signaled that they don’t even plan to hold a single hearing on election security legislation—despite a growing list of bills introduced in recent weeks to block foreign interference on multiple fronts, many of them bipartisan. The reason? It seems that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is in such a fit of pique over House Democrats’ approval of sweeping democracy legislation that he’s unwilling to discuss election legislation of any kind.

Never mind that Democrats’ reform package, known as HR 1, contained multiple election security measures, including grants for voting machine upgrades and testing, that are broadly supported on both sides of the aisle. McConnell abhors the bill’s disclosure and public matching funds provisions, and has slammed it as a “Democrat Political Protection Act.” That’s poisoned the waters, say Republicans who argue that the election security stalemate is therefore (somehow) Democrats’ fault.

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The Senate’s leading bipartisan election reform bill, authored by Oklahoma Republican James Lankford and Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar, was abruptly yanked from a markup before Blunt’s committee last year amid White House opposition. The bill, which would require states to use machines that produce a paper record and to conduct post-election audits, has influential GOP backing, including from Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, of North Carolina.

Lankford has said he and Klobuchar are continuing to work to advance the legislation, but Congress looks increasingly unlikely to pass it or any other election security bill before 2020. It’s an extraordinary abdication of duty, given the severity of the attacks on American elections in 2016, which turn out to be worse than acknowledged or even known at the time, and the intelligence community’s growing alarm over even more sophisticated and far-flung foreign election threats in 2020.

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In the meantime, FBI Director Christopher Wray has warned that the threat of foreign interference keeps escalating, and that other U.S. adversaries are looking for ways to emulate Russia.

The FBI is “very much viewing 2018 as just kind of a dress rehearsal for the big show in 2020,” said Wray in a speech last month at the Council on Foreign Relations. Russia’s campaign to interfere and sow discord “is not just an election-cycle threat,” Wray said. “It’s a 365-day-a-year threat.” The FBI has deployed agents and analysts, and requested additional funding from Congress, to defend against foreign interference. Republicans on Capitol Hill, by contrast, are taking their cue from the White House—essentially inviting foreign adversaries to attack American elections once again.

It is in this hostile Republican environment that a plan released this week by a Stanford University group that includes former top government and tech industry officials aims to be the equivalent of the 9/11 Commission report for election security. The Cybersecurity 202: Stanford group calls for major overhaul on election security. Here are their recommendations:

Like the 9/11 report, which fundamentally reorganized the nation’s homeland security and intelligence structure after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Securing American Elections aims big. It argues Russia’s 2016 election interference operation was an attack on fundamental American values, and should provoke the government and private sector to step up “defenses against efforts to erode confidence in democracy.”

The report’s 108 pages include 45 recommendations ranging from securing voting systems and combating online disinformation campaigns to negotiating major election security norms with allies and punishing adversaries who violate them.

Like the 9/11 commission leaders who spent years pushing the government to fully implement their reforms amid partisan bickering, this group is preparing for a fierce lobbying campaign to turn its recommendations into reality, said Nate Persily, a report author and director of Stanford’s Cyber Policy Center.

That will be an uphill climb. “We’re not naive. We recognize that the topic of Russian intervention in the 2016 election provokes a partisan reaction and there’s a partisan allergy to some types of recommendations,” Persily told me. “But we believe Democrats and Republicans can unite around what are some common-sense reforms.”

Persily, who was the senior research director on a bipartisan commission that recommended election administration reforms after the 2012 election, will be in Washington next week to urge lawmakers from both parties to turn the report’s recommendations into law.

The report authors, who include Michael McFaul, U.S. ambassador to Russia during the Barack Obama administration, and former Facebook chief security officer Alex Stamos, also plan to lobby many of their election-security recommendations to state and local officials, Persily said. They will urge them to voluntarily adopt protections that congressional Republicans are wary of forcing on them.

Those recommendations include having paper trails for all ballots, conducting post-election audits and inviting ethical hackers to probe their voting systems for vulnerabilities.

Some other key election-security recommendations include ensuring significant and regular funding for securing election infrastructure and allowing political parties to provide cybersecurity assistance for state parties and political candidates. That last measure mirrors a bill Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) introduced in March.

Other broader recommendations are aimed at improving cooperation across Internet companies to combat disinformation and sending signals to Russia and other adversaries that they will face serious consequences for disrupting future elections.

The authors hope to push through significant changes before the 2020 election, Persily told me, though they realize many of the recommendations will be tough sells because of partisan discord.

Congress has not passed any major election reforms since the attacks and Republicans are highly wary of imposing any election security requirements out of concerns about impinging on state’s authorities to run elections.

And unlike the 9/11 Commission, which was appointed by President George W. Bush and Congress in 2002, the Stanford team also lacks official government backing.

Still, the Stanford group plans to keep lobbying for their recommendations even after 2020, Persily told me, with the expectation that many of the ideas might become less partisan over time.

He echoed several Republican lawmakers such as Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) in warning that, while Russia’s efforts in 2016 were aimed at damaging Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, future interventions could be aimed at hurting Republicans.

“It would be a shame if we need to have election interventions by foreign countries that damage both parties before we have bipartisan reforms,” Persily told me. “I’m hopeful that before the next disaster, we’ll have reforms.”

I don’t see it happening. Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell will make sure that it does not happen. Because they believe the Russians will help them win again. Which tells you where their loyalties lie.