The investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election continue to reveal a full-scale assault on American democracy. From sophisticated social media efforts to attempted hacks of voter rolls, the Russians engaged in a campaign to undermine American democracy.
This is not the only time they have engaged in such activity. In countries like the Netherlands, Ukraine and France, the Russians have used influence operations to affect political campaigns and candidates.
The Russians have decided to do this to achieve three complementary goals. They want to undermine faith and confidence in democracy and its institutions from within, exacerbate social and political divisions advantageous to Russian interests and obfuscate or confuse the truth and amplify narratives that align with Russian interests, even when patently false.
These types of attacks certainly reveal the modern dangers and vulnerabilities to open, democratic processes, systems and data.
The United States and its democratic allies must treat these campaigns as strategic threats to democracy.
The 2016 campaign’s details are important and continue to be revealed as investigations in Congress and at the Federal Bureau of Investigation unfold. We also are learning through intelligence community findings and Department of Homeland Security analyses.
There does not seem to have been any cyber or other disruptions to the voting systems on Election Day in 2016. But there were attacks on state voting systems.
The danger is the ability of foreign actors to manipulate, distort or destroy voting data, access or systems. This goes to the heart of the integrity of the electoral process.
Complementary steps need to be taken to confront this new type of threat.
The investigations need to stay focused on understanding how the Russians attempted to affect or influence the election. This requires clarity and credibility in the findings — from Congress and Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
The electoral system is run at the state and local levels, but we need a complete review of how the “supply chain” of the electoral process is protected.
We need a greater, more rigorous transparency in campaign funding and reporting. This should include making the ownership of shell companies in the United States transparent. Greater transparency would avoid the possibility of foreign actors forming U.S. companies to fund or support political campaigns or processes.
The trickiest challenge is ferreting out “fake news” that is being used to undermine democracies. European countries and agencies have established centers to counter fake news.
Twitter and Facebook are now grappling with how best to address this challenge by flagging false news and perhaps moving to a Better Business Bureau-like model to validate stories and information.
We need clarity — declared publicly by the executive branch — that attacks on the U.S. electoral system will be treated as would other cyber attacks or threats on our infrastructure.
We also need a campaign to reveal the sources and methods of Russian and other meddling in the U.S. electoral system.
The United States and European Union should impose new types of sanctions together against those attempting to influence and undermine democratic systems and processes.
Finally, the United States should work with state, local, and private entities to respond to malware and cyber-attacks that attempt to compromise the electoral system.