UPDATE: 9/7, 1:39 p.m. EST: Defense Secretary Ash Carter addressed the issue of Russian attempts to hack U.S. election systems on Wednesday, while visiting England for a meeting with UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon later in the day at London.
“We don’t seek an enemy in Russia. But make no mistake — we will defend our allies, the principled international order, and the positive future it affords all of us,” Carter told students at Oxford University.
“We will counter attempts to undermine our collective security. And we will not ignore attempts to interfere with our democratic processes,” he continued.
Carter went to characterize Russia’s general behavior in the international arena as “unprofessional”, and said they seem to be “driven by misguided ambitions and misplaced fears.”
“It lashes out, alleging that it fears for its own viability and future, even though no nation — not the United States, not the United Kingdom — seeks to defeat it or constrain its potential,” Carter said.
The U.S. Intelligence Community is investigating a likely Russian plan to disrupt the November general election through a series of cyberattacks on voter data systems, according to current and former intelligence and congressional officials brief on the matter, the Washington Post reported Monday.
An anonymous senior intelligence official said there is no “definitive proof” of a Russian hack of U.S. election or government computer systems, “but even the hint of something impacting the security of our election system would be if significant concern.” According to other officials in-the-know, Russia’s plan to disrupt the Nov. 8 election is “ambitious” and aims to discredit American pro-democracy efforts in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
On Aug. 18, the FBI issued a “flash” alert entitled “Targeting Activity Against State Board of Election Systems,” that warned two successful hacks of voter registrations systems in Illinois and Arizona earlier this the summer likely originated in Russia.
Congressional leaders have also been brief by intelligence agencies on Russia’s European cyber warfare operations, which the Kremlin is attempting to duplicate in the U.S. According to an aide, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was “deeply shaken” after a 30-minute phone briefing on the subject at the FBI’s Las Vegas office.
Russia is believed to have stepped up their cyber warfare and Internet propaganda campaigns following the effective overthrow of Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin government in 2014 and subsequent sanctions leveled by the U.S. and EU following the annexation of Crimea. Russia has reportedly targeted both the Republic of Georgia and Ukraine through cyberattacks in order to disrupt government operations.
“Our studies show that it is very likely that [the Russian] operations are centrally run,” said director of NATO Strategic Communications Center of Excellence in Latvia, Janis Sarts.
Russia is coordinating an “effort involving [groups using] Twitter and Facebook and networks of bots to amplify their message,” he continued. “The main themes seem to be orchestrated rather high up in the hierarchy of the Russian state, and then there are individual endeavors by people to exploit specific themes.”
Sarts pointed to Russia’s exploitation of “vulnerabilities within societies,” such as the refugee crisis in Central and Western Europe and the disruption of Ukraine’s 2014 elections as examples of Russia’s undermining operations.
Meanwhile, U.S. Senate leaders like Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) have encouraged President Obama to call Russia out publicly for the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and other attempted hacks of government computer systems in Washington.
“Free and legitimate elections are non-negotiable,” Sen. Sasse said in a statement. “It’s clear that Russia thinks the reward outweighs any consequences. That calculation must be changed. . . . This is going to take a cross-domain response — diplomatic, political and economic — that turns the screws on Putin and his cronies.”
Following the briefing he received in Las Vegas, Sen. Harry Reid sent a letter to FBI Director James Comey asking the Bureau to investigate possible Russian infiltration of the U.S. election system. In the letter, Reid stated that he had “recently become concerned that the threat of the Russian government tampering in our presidential election is more extensive than widely known and may include the intent to falsify official election results.”
President Obama and Vladimir Putin met privately on Monday aside the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, China, after which Mr. Obama said the “goal is not to suddenly, in the cyber arena, duplicate the cycle of escalation we saw when it comes to other arms races in the past,” referring to the Cold War.
Putin has only offered evasive remarks about the matter, recently saying, “It doesn’t really matter who hacked this data from Mrs. Clinton’s campaign headquarters. The important thing is the content was given to the public.”
[Washington Post] [The Guardian] [Reuters] [Photo courtesy firmology.com]