Dispatch February 9, 2018

This Week In Russian Meddling

It’s increasingly likely that Russia will interfere in the 2018 midterm elections. But while bipartisan legislation has already been proposed to help protect our nation’s election infrastructure, Congress has yet to act on any of the following:

  • From Senators Lankford (R-OK) and Klobuchar (D-MN): a bipartisan election security bill, cosponsored by multiple senators of both parties, with resources to aid state system defenses and upgrade outdated technology, a program to develop cyber security guidelines, and a mandate to strengthen communication between national security departments and state election offices to prevent future attacks.
  • From Representatives Meadows (R-NC) and Langevin (D-RI): The Paper Act, “which aims to help states protect the integrity of federal elections.”
  • From Senators Van Hollen (D-MD) and Rubio (R-FL): a bill to “require the Director of National Intelligence to make a determination about foreign interference within one month after every federal election” and harsh sanctions for any nation that tries to influence a US election.

This week, high-ranking officials are sounding the alarm on Russian interference.

  • DHS head of cybersecurity Jeanette Manfra said that DHS “saw a targeting of 21 states and an exceptionally small number of them were actually successfully penetrated” by Russian hackers during prior to the 2016 presidential election.
  • Jeh Johnson, former DHS secretary, called 2016 “a wakeup call,” saying that “it’s incumbent upon states and the Feds to do something about it before our democracy is attacked again.”
  • Even George W. Bush said there is “pretty clear evidence that the Russians meddled’ during the 2016 election.” He added, “It’s problematic that a foreign nation is involved in our election system. Our democracy is only as good as people trust the results.”

There is concrete evidence of Russian hacking that fits into a larger influence campaign.

  • A top-secret NSA document leaked by Reality Winner outlined intelligence showing that the GRU (Russia’s military intelligence agency) “executed a cyberattack on at least one US voting software supplier and sent spear-phishing emails to more than 100 location election officials” prior to the 2016 election.
  • In June 2016, Russian hackers stole a username and password for an election official in Arizona. Hackers also “inserted a malicious program into the Illinois State Board of Elections’ database.” This program tried, unsuccessfully, “to alter things other than voter data,” and illegally downloaded 90,000 voter registration files.

Russia is emboldened to further meddle the 2018 election cycle – and may already be doing so.

  • WikiLeaks, which effectively operates as a Russian intelligence cut-out, has attempted to derail the Russia investigation by offering a $1 million reward to anyone who could leak Devin Nunes’ memo alleging FBI misconduct.
  • “#ReleaseTheMemo” was allegedly pushed on social media by Russian bots and trolls.
  • Julian Assange direct messaged an individual he thought was Sean Hannity, offering “some news about Warner.”
  • Many social media platforms are still susceptible to Russian-linked propaganda. Instagram accounts believed to contain “fake Russian material” have been discovered promoting pro-Confederate secessionist messaging.


Russia did not stop with the 2016 US election – since then, it has continued to meddle around the globe.

  • Marine Le Pen’s National Front party took Russian loans in 2014 from a Kremlin-linked bank.
  • A hacker group though to be connected to the Russian government attacked German state computer systems in 2015, ahead of their 2017 elections.
  • Russia reportedly tried to spread fake news during the 2017 Dutch election cycle.
  • Russian groups spread misinformation over social media platforms during the independence referendum in Catalonia in 2017.
  • In 2017, HR McMaster stated that the Russian government had launched an influence campaign during the Mexican presidential elections, which are in July 2018.
  • Russia invested over $1 billion in the Kurdistan natural gas and oil industry at a crucial time, as Kurdistan prepared to hold an independence referendum in 2017.

Russia hacked into U.S. voting systems in 2016. Since then, Russian interference in elections has continued on a global scale, while Russian propaganda continues to infiltrate social media platforms in the US. Legislation to shore up our elections systems has bipartisan support. Congress needs to move forward to protect the US from foreign interference.