According to a brand new report from The New York Times, in “recent days,” Russian operatives have “hacked into state and local computer networks in breaches that could allow Moscow broader access to American voting infrastructure.” Following their initial forced access to the election authorities’ computer networks, the Russian operatives behind the apparent cyber-meddling have not made apparent known major updates to network elements like voter registration information, officials explained. Still, the possibility of further Russian action against the integrity of these computer systems seems present. According to the Times, “Officials say Russia’s ability to change vote tallies nationwide is limited” — but the results-changing ability should be zero, not “limited.”
BREAKING: U.S. administration officials have been watching Russia's FSB penetrate state and local systems in recent weeks and believe they have pieced together Russia's plans for election interference. https://t.co/a3Lo69MmgL It is far worse than Iran. w/ @julianbarnes @SangerNYT
— Nicole Perlroth (@nicoleperlroth) October 22, 2020
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency — an agency at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security — has confirmed the reporting from the Times. In a Thursday statement, that agency said that Russian operatives have “targeted dozens of [state, local, tribal, and territorial] government and aviation networks… successfully compromised network infrastructure, and as of Oct. 1, exfiltrated data from at least two victim servers.”
American officials expect that if the presidential race is not called on election night, Russian groups could use their knowledge of local computer systems to deface websites, release nonpublic information or take similar steps that could sow chaos and doubts about the results. https://t.co/YZowUIbnSg
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) October 22, 2020
According to Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, who’s a former Republican Congressman and a close political ally of the president, Iranian operatives were behind recent threatening emails claiming to be from the violent far-right group known as the Proud Boys that were sent to Florida voters. Ratcliffe characterized the email campaign as an effort to damage Trump’s reputation. Nevertheless, Florida voter registration information is public — the email campaign is not on par with Russia’s intrusion into local election computer systems that the Times is reporting.
The Times explains that “many intelligence officials said they remained far more concerned about Russia” than Iran, despite repeated efforts from people in the president’s orbit to dilute concern about Russia by pointing out foreign interference from other sources.
So, what does Russia plan to do, exactly — or what are they doing with their already-present access to state and local election computer systems, if they’re not changing data like voter registration information? U.S. officials told the Times that they believed that Russian operations “would be intended to help President Trump, potentially by exacerbating disputes around the results, especially if the race is too close to call.” These Russian operatives could “deface websites, release nonpublic information or take similar steps that could sow chaos and doubts about the integrity of the results.” In other words, the forced access to state and local election computer systems that the Times has reported on this week could represent Russian operatives getting into position for further action.
Ironically, Russia might not even need to rely on their hacking operatives in order to see through their apparent goal of muddling American democracy in favor of the president. Trump has already very publicly threatened to reject the election results, claiming that — among other things — mail-in voting is full of fraud, which is false. He’s also claimed that Democrats are attempting to “rig” the election against him, which is also unequivocally false.
Trump’s lies mirror his rather deranged post-2016 claim that millions of illegal votes had been cast for Hillary Clinton, which was not remotely connected to reality. The Times notes that federal officials “have warned for months that small breaches could be exaggerated to prompt inaccurate charges of widespread voter fraud” — and outside of the reporting from the Times, it’s clear that President Donald Trump himself could peddle these lies. The president of the United States is consistently threatening the integrity of the electoral process. He’s even already claimed that foreign countries could submit fraudulent mail-in ballots to be counted alongside legitimate ones, which there is no apparent evidence for.