Two years after Russia interfered in the American presidential campaign, the nation has done little to protect itself against a renewed effort to influence voters in the coming congressional midterm elections, according to lawmakers and independent analysts. They say that voting systems are more secure against hackers, thanks to action at the federal and state levels — and that the Russians have not targeted those systems to the degree they did in 2016. But Russian efforts to manipulate U.S. voters through misleading social media postings are likely to have grown more sophisticated and harder to detect, and there is not a sufficiently strong government strategy to combat information warfare against the United States, outside experts said. Despite Facebook’s revelation this week that it had closed down 32 phony pages and profiles that were part of a coordinated campaign, technology companies in general have struggled to curb the flow of disinformation and hacking and have received little guidance from the U.S. government on how to do so.
“Twenty-one months after the 2016 election, and only three months before the 2018 elections, Russian-backed operatives continue to infiltrate and manipulate social media to hijack the national conversation and set Americans against each other,” Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) said Wednesday at a hearing of Senate Intelligence Committee, of which he is vice chairman. “They were doing it in 2016; they are still doing it today.”
Experts say the lack of forceful administration leadership on the issue — with President Trump at times questioning the conclusions of the U.S. intelligence community about Russia’s disinformation and hacking campaign — renders less effective the efforts of agencies to mount a coordinated government action.
“If you can’t talk about Russia around the president, I don’t see how you get out in front of this, given that they’re the ones doing most of the foreign influence,” said Clint Watts, a former FBI agent and disinformation expert for the Foreign Policy Research Institute.