Is it happening?
Weeks after Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, warned that almost two decades since the September 11, 2001 attacks, “warning lights are blinking red again” for a devastating cyber assault on critical U.S. infrastructure, and six months after Department of Homeland Security (DHS) head of cybersecurity, Jeanette Manfra, confirmed Russia officially penetrated several states’ voter rolls during the 2016 election, Russia may have already infiltrated some voter registration systems in the state of Florida, ahead of the 2018 midterms.
Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, a member of the Armed Services subcommittee on cybersecurity, informed the Tampa Bay Times before a campaign event in Tampa last week:
“They have already penetrated certain counties in the state and they now have free rein to move about.”
“We were requested by the chairman and vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee to let supervisors of election in Florida know that the Russians are in their records.”
On July 2, Nelson and fellow Florida senator, Marco Rubio, penned a letter to the state’s 67 county election supervisors about possible threats, stating:
“County election boards should not be expected to stand alone against a hostile foreign government.”
They recommended “a wide range of services.”
However, Florida Department of State Communications Director, Sarah Revell, claimed:
“The Florida Department of State has received zero information from Senator Nelson or his staff that support his claims. Additionally, the Department has received no information from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that corroborates Senator Nelson’s statement and we have no evidence to support these claims. If Senator Nelson has specific information about threats to our elections, he should share it with election officials in Florida.”
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee, supported his senate colleagues in a statement:
“Russian activities continue to pose a threat to the security of our elections, as Senators Nelson and Rubio rightly pointed out in their letter. I hope all state and local elections officials, including Florida’s, will take this issue seriously.”
Sen. Nelson proposed a scenario in which potential hackers could realistically alter voter registration records.
“All they have to do, if those election records are not protected, is to go in and start eliminating registered voters. You can imagine the chaos that would occur on Election Day when the voters get to the polls and they say, ‘I’m sorry, Mr. Smith; I’m sorry, Mr. Jones, you’re not registered.’ That’s exactly what the Russians want to do. They want to sow chaos in our democratic institutions.”
That chaos in our democratic institutions is exactly what Facebook assumes is once again behind the coordinated disinformation campaign it uncovered two weeks ago involving 32 faux users’ pages and profiles, specifically eight pages, 17 profiles, and seven Instagram accounts that were created between March 2017 and May 2018.
Although Facebook officials state they are unable to tie the malicious activity to Russia, profiles share a pattern with the 2016 activity associated with the Kremlin-linked troll farm, the Internet Research Agency.
Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, commented:
“We know that Russians and other bad actors are going to continue to try to abuse our platform — before the midterms, probably during the midterms, after the midterms, and around other events and elections. We are continually looking for that type of activity, and as and when we find things, which we think is inevitable, we’ll notify law enforcement, and where we can, the public.”
What is our government doing to prevent another 2016-style infiltration?
In March, the United States imposed sanctions on 19 Russian individuals and five groups that include Moscow’s intelligence services, for cyber attacks and interfering with the 2016 presidential election.
The sanctions target the Russian nationals special council Robert Mueller charged on February 16 for tampering with our elections, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), and six individuals working for GRU.
Earlier this summer, Mueller indicted 12 more GRU operatives.
However, in April, the White House eliminated from the National Security Council an integral position charged with developing a policy to defend the United States against cyber warfare and cyber election hacking.
Last October, news broke about evidence confirming Russian buyers used Facebook advertising as propaganda leading up to the election, prompting the House Intelligence Committee in November to release a sample of Facebook ads the Russian government-affiliated St. Petersburg troll farm purchased about issues like immigration, religion, and race, for and against presidential contenders Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump.
Former FBI Director James Comey warned Congress during his highly televised Senate Intelligence Committee hearing last June that Moscow is not through meddling with the American electorate:
“They’re coming after America. They will be back.”
Former Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, confirmed the United States is still vulnerable to similar meddling.
“Well, I don’t know that I would say we’re better prepared (than in 2016) because the Russians will adapt as well. The point is if it’s their intention to interfere, they’re going to find ways to do that. And we can take steps we can take, but this is something that, once they decide they’re going to do it, it’s very difficult to preempt it.”
Asked whether he thought Russia would interfere again, Tillerson said:
“I don’t know. I hope they don’t.”
Despite all the intelligence evidence, Trump replied “no” when a reporter inquired whether Russia was “still targeting the U.S.”
It’s almost as if they want to leave a door open so Russia can walk right back in.
Perhaps they already have.
Image credit: kcnonline.com