If you had any doubt that Russian hackers attempted to meddle with the United States electoral system, a new report from Bloomberg is here to scare the crap out of you. Not only did Russia go after a voting software supplier in one state (as previously reported by The Intercept), Putin’s cyber army reportedly targeted systems in 39 states. That’s four out of five, for those of you keeping count.
Three anonymous sources “with direct knowledge” of the investigation gave Bloomberg new details about Russia’s attempt to interfere with the US election process. Yes, the sources say, hackers did attempt to manipulate voter databases, the voter registration process, and voting machine software. They also reportedly targeted individual election officials with spear-phishing attacks and infiltrated at least one campaign finance database. Again, some of this information was reported by The Intercept last week based on leaked NSA documents, but the scale of that operation appears to much, much larger than was previously disclosed. It’s unclear from both reports just how successful any of these attempts were.
Disturbingly, the entire operation was apparently just a warm up exercise. According to Bloomberg’s sources, now that Russian hackers have done some test runs, they will be back in 2018 and 2020. And they will know a lot more about how America’s fragmented voting process actually works, too. Former FBI director James Comey said as much in his Senate testimony last week. “They’re coming for America,” Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee. “They will be back.”
The implication, of course, is that a future attempt by Russia to meddle with America’s elections could not only undermine citizens’ faith in the vote-counting process, but actually alter the results themselves. It doesn’t help that the American president, Donald Trump, claims that millions of illegal votes were cast in the 2016 US election without offering any evidence to support his radical claim. President Trump has also vehemently denied any Russian interference in the 2016 US election, despite the fact that the issue is the subject of an ongoing FBI investigation that Trump, coincidentally, can’t stop trying to undermine.
President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, denies that the Kremlin was directly involved in hacking the US electoral process. He did, however, recently suggest that “patriotic” non-state-sponsored agents may have independently made the attacks. Putin presumably gave his familiar Grinch grin after making this claim.
The really terrifying thing about this news is the simple fact that we can’t expect the Trump administration to do anything to stop future Russian interference. President Trump is the same shrivelled cheese curd who hosted high-ranking Russian officials at the White House the day after firing Comey over his continued investigation into Russia and the election. And what did Trump do during that meeting? He forbid the American press from covering the meeting. He welcomed the Russian press. And he gave the Russian officials classified information, a brazen act that pissed off one of America’s closest allies.
It’s safe to say that Russia’s continued attempts to influence the American electoral process transcends partisan politics. This isn’t about who won in 2016. Sure, evidence is stacking up that Russian propaganda efforts had an impact. The DNC hack and subsequent leaks almost certainly harmed Hillary Clinton’s campaign. But as lawmakers and leaders on both sides of the aisle are shouting louder and louder, Russian interference in US elections threatens the future of America’s democracy.
It doesn’t have to be like this. There’s another big election coming up in a little over a year. Let’s just hope that one’s fair.