In a wide-ranging set of indictments handed down on July 13, 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) charged 12 Russian intelligence officers with brazenly attacking U.S. election infrastructure during the 2016 presidential election. On that same day, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats sounded the alarm that Russia is continuing its cyberattacks on the United States, ominously stating that “the warning lights are blinking red again,” just as they were before the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Coats went on to say that the nation’s election systems and other digital infrastructure are “literally under attack.” Yet, in the face of overwhelming evidence, for more than a year-and-a-half, President Donald Trump has cast doubt on these consistent warnings. It now is incumbent on Congress, key members of the administration, state and local officials, and other stakeholders to take aggressive steps within their respective purviews to secure our election infrastructure.
The cacophony of warnings from top intelligence officials and lawmakers about our nation’s insecure election infrastructure could not be starker. In addition to the admonitions of Director of National Intelligence Coats, FBI Director Christopher Wray warned that the United States needs to respond to Russia’s attacks “with fierce determination and focus.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the United States has a “‘great deal more work to do’ to safeguard the integrity of American elections ahead of the upcoming 2018 midterms.” And the Senate Intelligence Committee, chaired by Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), concluded that 2016 may have been just a “testing ground” for future, more severe attacks.
On July 26, 2018, concrete evidence of the accuracy of these warnings came to light. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), who is a harsh critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and is in the midst of her own reelection campaign, revealed that Russian operatives attempted to infiltrate her Senate computer network. These Russian hackers allegedly used a variant of the same password-stealing technique that they used successfully to steal the e-mails of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, in 2016.