Revelations regarding top-level inquiries into a cyberattack launched by Russian military intelligence agents on an American voting-systems manufacturer, and of an apparently related attempt to hack the e-mail accounts of local election officials around the United States shortly before the 2016 presidential election, should turn the attention of Congress toward the need to secure this country’s extraordinarily vulnerable electoral processes.
According to a highly classified intelligence report obtained by The Intercept, the National Security Agency has been examining “a months-long Russian intelligence cyber effort against elements of the U.S. election and voting infrastructure. The report, dated May 5, 2017, is the most detailed U.S. government account of Russian interference in the election that has yet come to light.”
Despite denials by Russian President Vladimir Putin of any formal Russian efforts to interfere with foreign elections, The Intercept says the report reveals that “Russian hacking may have penetrated further into U.S. voting systems than was previously understood. It states unequivocally in its summary statement that it was Russian military intelligence, specifically the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU, that conducted the cyber attacks described in the document.” A quote pulled from the report described how “Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate actors…executed cyber espionage operations against a named US company in August 2016, evidently to obtain information on elections-related software and hardware solutions.… The actors likely used data obtained from that operation to…launch a voter registration-themed spear-phishing campaign targeting U.S. local government organizations.”
A US intelligence officer cautioned The Intercept reporters—and the rest of us—against what the website described as “drawing too big a conclusion from the document because a single analysis is not necessarily definitive.” That’s wise counsel. There will be more inquiries, and potentially more revelations, regarding Russian interference.
But regardless of what anyone thinks about what may or may not have happened in 2016, the intensifying discussion about last year’s election reminds Americans of the extent to which officials have failed to assure that elections in the United States are conducted openly, honestly, and without interference by domestic or foreign partisans. There is an urgent need to protect voting and elections and democracy itself—officially and permanently.