Barr's letter confirms that we need to improve the security of the elections.


Vladimir Putin puts a ballot in an electronic reader.

Russian President Vladimir Putin voted in an election at Moscow City Hall on 9 September.

Sputnik / Alexei Nikolsky / Kremlin via Reuters

Late Sunday afternoon, after two years of investigation special advocate Robert Mueller and his team of 19 lawyers and about 40 FBI agents, intelligence analysts, forensic accountants and other professionals, Attorney General William Barr provided Congress with his summary of the Trump report. . Although the debate quickly focused on congressional Democrats' calls for full disclosure, an element included in Barr's memo should be irrefutable and remarkable: a foreign power deliberately tried to overthrow American democracy . Mueller's thorough investigation and Trump's attorney general confirm that this should be the real headline this week – and that this should be an urgent call to better protect our democracy as the 2020 presidential campaign begins.

Barr's summary highlights that Mueller has identified "two major Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election". According to Barr, the first attempt to influence the election of 2016 "involved misinformation attempts by a Russian organization, Internet Research Agency (IRA) in the United States of operations to sow discord in order to interfere in the elections ". It is this line of action that led to the indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies for committing federal crimes while seeking to interfere in the United States' political system in war of information against the United States. The report of the Special Senate Committee on Intelligence also focused on the social media tactics used by the IRA in its attempts to influence American political discourse.

The second attempt was aimed at "the Russian government's efforts to conduct hacking operations to gather and disseminate information that could influence the election". This effort focused on the hacking of emails and computers belonging to individuals associated with the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign. The stolen information was disseminated "by various intermediaries, including WikiLeaks". This led to the indictment on July 13 of 12 Russian intelligence officers for conspiracy to influence the 2016 election. The 2017 assessment by the CIA and the FBI also revealed that Russia made interfering in the 2016 presidential election to undermine public confidence in the US democratic process.

Perhaps if these 25 indictments were filed at the same time as the publication of Barr's summary, this long description of a foreign country's attack on our elections would attract a lot of media attention. Be that as it may, the conclusion of Mueller's investigation should be an urgent reminder that our elected officials, our candidates and our government must consider this a serious threat. They must begin to take action to prevent our 2020 elections from being targeted again. Here are seven recommendations to help protect our democracy:

1. Investigate entities assisted or affiliated with Russia.

The extent to which other entities have helped Russia remains cloudy, so it is imperative to continue investigations into organizations such as WikiLeaks and Cambridge Analytica. Barr acknowledges in his note that Wikileaks has been involved in the dissemination of stolen emails and other information. And Cambridge Analytica, its parent company SCL Group, and key executives may have had a significant engagement with Russia, according to whistleblower Christopher Wylie, who said: tweeted"When I was at Cambridge Analytica, the company hired known Russian agents, had data researchers in St. Petersburg, tested US voters' opinion of Putin's leadership, and hired hackers in Russia. all under the direction of Bannon. "The American people deserve to know who else helped or collaborated with Russia. Fortunately, it appears that the Judiciary Committee of the House could continue to investigate these links.

2. Hold the people involved responsible.

By 2018, the State Department had not spent any of the $ 120 million allocated since the end of 2016 to counter foreign efforts to meddle with elections.

Given that it is highly unlikely that any of the 25 accused Russian individuals or companies will be brought to justice, the responsibility for these acts can be blamed on financial punishment or strategic engagement. In 2018, the United States took steps to punish Russia for its behavior, including its interference in our elections. However, in January 2019, Senate Republicans rejected a bipartisan bid to maintain sanctions against companies owned by the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, which has close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin. . Deripaska, as noted by the US Treasury, himself declared that he "was not separating from the Russian state". This type of economic measures put in place to punish Russia is a key factor in preventing this type of overt action in the future and must be respected to get ahead.

In addition, although the White House no longer has a Cybersecurity Coordinator, the United States published in 2018 documents outlining a strategy recognizing the threats associated with cyberspace. These documents, the US Cyber ​​Command's cyber vision and Cyber ​​Strategy provided a framework for the US Cyber ​​Command and the National Security Agency to launch a campaign to shut down Russian troll farms in the United States. the purpose of blocking and deterring any interference in American traffic. elections. Hopefully a combination of sanctions and deterrence will force Russia and other countries to pause before implementing plans to target US elections.

3 Concentrate on misinformation.

Within the State Department, there is a focal point for the United States' clear counter-propaganda efforts around the world: the Global Engagement Center. The recently appointed GEC coordinator, Lea Gabrielle, US Navy fighter pilot and former Fox News reporter, cited Russia as one of the countries where we should most worry about the use propaganda to undermine the interests of the United States. The GEC budget for 2019 was only $ 55 million. A bill has been tabled to raise this amount to $ 115 million. However, no later than 2018, the State Department had yet spent none of the $ 120 million allocated since the end of 2016 to counter foreign efforts to interfere in elections or to sow mistrust in democracy. As a result, not one of the 23 analysts working at the department's global commitment center – who was tasked with thwarting the Moscow disinformation campaign – spoke Russian, and a department hiring freeze prevented recruiting experts in computer science necessary to follow the efforts of Russia. The Congress must hold the State Department to account for the weaknesses of the GEC in the fight against foreign propaganda and even in the deployment of funds allocated to it for this purpose. After all, it is the Congress that has added anti-state propaganda, such as counter-Russian propaganda, to the GEC mission.

In addition, we must invest in education to enhance the skills in media analysis, such as the distinction of facts and opinions, the identification of hate speech and the detection of places where information was omitted. Similar courses in Ukraine have shown that they can be very successful and that at a time when the ability to discern between reality and fiction becomes more complex, this training can prove to be essential.

4. Protect our elections.

Although the focus is on IRA and hacking, our elections are also vulnerable. A US Senate report released in May 2018 indicated that in 2016, "cyber-actors affiliated with the Russian government had conducted an unprecedented and coordinated cyber campaign against the state's electoral infrastructure" . "Russian actors" have "analyzed the databases for vulnerabilities, intrusion attempts and a small number of cases have successfully entered a voter registration database" and in a small number of states, "these cyber-actors were able to modify or delete voter registration data at a minimum."

In order to secure our elections, we must allocate funds to improve our voting systems. While the remaining $ 380 million was distributed to states earlier this year as a grant under the US Help America Vote Act, many say they continue to face major challenges with funding. In fact, according to a report from the Brennan Center, 121 election officials in 31 states said they need to upgrade their voting machines before 2020 – but about a third of them only have enough money to do it. Forty states use machines that are at least a decade old and 45 states use equipment that is no longer manufactured. Under Article 1 of the People's Act, passed in early January by Democrats in the House, nearly $ 1.5 billion would be allowed to fund states to improve voting technology and reduce vulnerabilities cybersecurity in electoral infrastructures. Sadly, Senate Republicans and President Donald Trump opposed this bill, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell assured his party that he was counting on ignoring it. officially in his room.

In addition, Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, introduced a bill on electoral security, the Protecting American Votes and Elections Act, which would allow the Department of Homeland Security to set minimum standards in cybersecurity for voters.

Finally, the law on the integrity of electoral systems, proposed by Senator Ben Cardin, D-Maryland; Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota; and Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, would require the disclosure of foreign ownership of election service providers so that state and federal officials know who is behind the companies that provide the election materials. The law directly addresses issues such as the one revealed by a parent company with links to a Russian oligarch close to Vladimir Putin, who had owned the voter registration, the candidacy and the electoral management system. throughout Maryland.

5. Regulate the international distribution of campaign / survey information.

As more and more information is collected about US citizens, whether through foreign technology companies or state actors, it is time to consider that these data are sensitive to export regulation. For example, Paul Manafort shared data from the 2016 election polls with a Russian linked to Moscow's intelligence agencies, according to Robert Mueller. Americans should demand that this type of information, be it surveys or any type of audience analysis, be considered sensitive and regulated by the US export control system to promote the interests of our national security and foreign policy.

6. Regulate technology platforms.

Given the impact of social media and technology platforms on advertising and influence, it is imperative that their reach be consistent with the regulatory regime governing broadcasting and television. Parts of H.R.1 and the Honest Ads Act would explicitly prohibit the purchase of political ads by foreign nationals. Additional considerations could focus on the requirement to obtain a federal license for foreign accounts seeking to disseminate information, providing geographic information on pages relating to problems, and expanding and expanding the rules of " Election Communication "to cover online advertising.

7. Take the commitment.

Finally, political candidates must be willing to accept a "code of conduct" with a long list of prohibited tactics. As Justin Hendrix writes, this could include the deployment of robots, trolls, fake accounts and websites, dummy or deceptive groups, or the use of highly misleading audio or video artifacts manipulated, such as deep counterfeits. Participants would also agree not to hack their opponents or to acquire, share or otherwise use pirated material and to avoid the unauthorized acquisition or use of data.

Thanks to Mueller's work and Barr's letter to Congress, Americans of all political stripes should now agree that Russia has tried to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and should in turn be wary of the fact that the 2020 presidential election is likely to be an important goal. In the face of a serious threat to national security, we must think of ways to protect our elections and our democracy from foreign interference. Although the above recommendations do not eliminate the threat, it is important that the discussion of potential solutions begins in earnest. Until then, we may, like Mark Twain, make historical stories again.

Time of the future
is a partnership of
New America, and
University of the State of Arizona
which examines emerging technologies, public policies and society.

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