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Did Russia Pick Our President?

Binyamin Rose, Washington D.C.

Why cyber-attacks threaten the integrity of American elections

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

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AIN’T OVER TILL IT’S OVER Top cybersecurity officials from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, along with computer science experts, shared their fears that Russia’s bad behavior isn’t nearly over. Indeed, they said, Russia’s ability to hack America’s election-related infrastructure is a mounting concern that threatens the integrity of free and fair midterm Congressional elections in 2018 and the presidential race in 2020

T he cliché that “you have to get up pretty early to fool me” didn’t apply to William Rinehart the morning of March 22, 2016. Rinehart, a staff member on the Hillary Clinton campaign, was in Hawaii preparing for the Aloha State’s Democratic caucus when Google pinged him with an e-mail recommending he change his Gmail password because their system detected an intrusion from the Ukraine. Rinehart, frustrated and groggy, did their bidding, and in so doing, he unwittingly handed over his e-mail account to Russian hackers, granting them access into his files and those of the Democratic National Committee.

As badly as Rinehart erred, Russian attempts to subvert US elections didn’t begin in 2016. Nor will the story end when Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller weighs in on whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians, or if such collusion and accusations are fake news, or just another Clinton excuse for her surprising loss to Trump.

The issue is much larger than President Trump’s survival, or his ability to overcome these challenges and rule as chief executive. Last Wednesday in Washington, I attended a hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in which top cybersecurity officials from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, along with computer science experts, shared their fears that Russia’s bad behavior isn’t nearly over. Indeed, they said, Russia’s ability to hack America’s election-related infrastructure is a mounting concern that threatens the integrity of free and fair midterm Congressional elections in 2018 and the presidential race in 2020.


Russia's hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s computers was the breaking development that took over the news cycle at last July’s Democratic nominating convention, and an early warning sign of deep trouble for Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

But Hillary and the Democrats were not the only victims.

By the time Donald Trump was sworn into office in January, the US intelligence community had arrived at the conclusion that Russia had hacked election-related infrastructure in 39 of America’s 50 states by targeting voter registration databases and the technology used by vendors and contractors who support that infrastructure. Data in some 21 of those 39 states were compromised, said Dr. Samuel Liles, acting director of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Cyber Division, Office of Intelligence Analysis.

“Based on activity we observed, the vast majority of those were indicative of scanning for vulnerabilities, like a person looking at what you’re doing from down the street,” said Dr. Liles, in testimony last Wednesday before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing looking into Russian interference in the 2016 US elections.

Assistant director of the FBI’s counterintelligence division Bill Priestap: “The primary goal was to sow discord and to try to delegitimize our free and fair election process”

However, in Illinois, one of two states along with Arizona where officials have admitted they were victimized, the cyber-attackers accessed voter registration records, forcing the state to contact nearly 76,000 voters to warn them of the risk of identity theft posed by the breach.

Senators from both parties pressed Liles, and other intelligence community members who testified, to declassify portions of their investigation, enabling public disclosure of the names of the other 19 states, along with a count of how many other Americans had their privacy invaded.

“We are not making our country safer if we don’t make all Americans realize the extent and the breadth of what they [Russia] did in 2016 and, if we don’t get our act together, what they will do in 2018 and 2020,” said intelligence committee vice chair Mark Warner (R-VA).

Committee chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) stated that despite the intrusions, Russian hackers probing for weak spots in the US election infrastructure failed to eliminate or modify any data, and more importantly, no election outcomes or vote tallies were affected.

However, by spreading fake news through disreputable websites, which were then picked up by social media trolls and re-tweeters, as well as hacking personal e-mails and leaking them for maximum political benefit, Russia was the major disruptor of the 2016 presidential campaign.

“Without firing a shot, and at minimal cost, Russia sowed chaos in our political system and undermined faith in our political process,” Senator Warner said. “The bad news is this will not be the last attempt.”

With much of the media, including President Trump’s political opponents, still pitching the story that Trump was the beneficiary of the Russian hackers, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) told fellow intelligence committee members that Russia’s secondary goal was to target the winner of the presidential race, no matter who it was.

“They wanted that person to go into office hobbled by scandal and all sorts of questions about them,” Rubio said. “I think you can argue they have achieved quite a bit if you think about the amount of time that we have been consumed in this country on this important topic and the political fissures that have developed.” (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 666)

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