The day after former special counsel Robert Mueller told Congress that Russians are tampering with U.S. election infrastructure “as we sit here,” the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report that determined that Moscow targeted elections in all 50 states in 2016, an extent much greater than previously revealed.
The 67-page report concluded that there was no evidence of votes being changed at the polls, although in Illinois, “Russian cyberactors were in a position to delete or change voter data.” The report also stated that there is “an unprecedented level of activity against state election infrastructure” as Russia searches for security flaws in states’ election software. Even as we approach the next election, the intelligence community is unclear as to why Russia — which had breached U.S. election infrastructure in 2014 — hacked into the polls without acting. The report states that the GRU, Moscow’s foreign military-intelligence agency, could have been testing out vulnerabilities “for use at a later date.” This was the main concern of the NSA, DHS, and FBI.
Also new to the report was the detail that Russian officials requested to send election observers to the U.S. for the 2016 election, as is routine for the U.S. State Department to do in other countries. The request was a red flag for the Intelligence committee, as most election machines are offline — meaning that the easiest way to directly tamper with votes would be by physically accessing them, rather than attempting to hack into individual devices at the ballot.
The good news is that the report made recommendations for how to stymie interference in the coming election; the bad news, as the New York Times puts it, is that “its findings were so heavily redacted at the insistence of American intelligence agencies that even some key recommendations for 2020 were blacked out.” For example, the title of the final recommendation from the intelligence community states “Build a Credible.” The rest of the title, and the following two paragraphs, are blacked out.
Meanwhile, Democrats have proposed two bills that would help provide election security in 2020, requiring campaigns to alert the intelligence community and the Federal Election Commission if they receive offers of assistance from abroad, as the Trump camp did in 2016. But on Wednesday, Republican senator Cindy Hyde-Smith blocked the motion, which was seconded by Mitch McConnell on Thursday. McConnell called the bills “partisan legislation”; in his testimony, Robert Mueller called Russian interference the “new normal.”