The Russian hacking of state election systems during the 2016 election was described by Samuel Liles, then the acting cyber director at the Department of Homeland Security, during his June 2017 testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee as “analogous to somebody walking down the street and looking to see if you’re home.
“A small number of systems were unsuccessfully exploited, as though somebody had rattled the doorknob but was unable to get in… [however] a small number of networks were successfully exploited,” Liles testified. “They made it through the door.”
The analogy has an interesting resonance for an administration that equates the nation with a family compound. During the most recent government shutdown in December 2018 and January 2019, Trump’s minions regularly cited various Democrat politicians whose homes were surrounded by walls as if it proved the hypocrisy of their refusal to fund his border wall.
If the Russians are casing Casa Americana, it raises the question of whether a derelict homeowner is ready to hand over the housekeys to the burglars. And if this is supposed to be a family, it’s beyond dysfunctional. Trump and his Republican henchmen don’t hate anyone in the world as much as they do the Democrats. Even the administration’s antagonism towards Iran, which threatens to hurl us into a catastrophic war, is only a byproduct of Trump’s deranged hatred of Barack Obama.
If the United States was a family with a true interest in securing its home, Trump would be the patriarch and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would be the matriarch.
This is what they actually said about each other in March after failing to hold a meeting about infrastructure.
Trump: “Things are going well, and I said, ‘Let’s have a meeting about infrastructure, we’ll get that done easily, that’s one of the easy ones.’ But instead of walking in happily to a meeting, I walk in to look at people that had just said I was doing a cover-up. I don’t do cover-ups. You people know that probably better than anybody.”
Pelosi: “Now this time, another temper tantrum — again — I pray for the president of the United States…. I wish that his family or his administration and staff would have an intervention for the good of the country.”
You’d be hard pressed to come up with better dialogue for a scene from “Arrested Development,” the critically acclaimed but short-lived sitcom that aired from 2003 to 2006. (Let’s indulge for a moment in the idea of Trump as George Bluth Sr., the disgraced real-estate developer jailed for defrauding investors, while recognizing that Lucille Bluth — described by Wikipedia as “ruthlessly manipulative, materialistic, and hypercritical of every member of her family, as well as perpetually drinking alcohol” — might not be exactly accurate as a representation of Pelosi either.)
The heavily redacted Senate Intelligence Committee report, entitled “Russian Active Measures Campaigns and Interference in the 2016 US Election Infrastructure,” which was released on July 25, found that “the Russian government directed extensive activity, beginning in at least 2014 and carrying into at least 2017, against US election infrastructure at the state and local level.” The report also cited an October 2018 Intelligence Assessment by the Department of Homeland Security finding, “We judge that numerous actors are regularly targeting election infrastructure, likely for different purposes, including to cause disruptive effects, steal sensitive data, and undermine confidence in the election.”
To mangle Southern California pop-culture analogies, does that make Mitch McConnell — who is scuttling election security legislation this very moment — the equivalent of Robert Kardashian, the family friend scurrying to the Simpson residence to collect a garment bag with OJ’s bloody clothes?
The report issued by the Senate Intelligence Committee — chaired by Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) — is chilling, and the only reason to make light of the situation is that Trump’s Republican enablers have proven themselves incapable of shame through stern admonishment.
The report found that Russian “cyber actors” had accessed “up to 200,000 voter registration records in Illinois by the end of 2018.
“The compromise resulted in the exfiltration of an unknown quantity of voter registration,” the report continues. “Russian cyber actors were in a position to delete or change voter data, but the committee is not aware of any evidence that they did so.”
One unnamed Homeland Security staffer mused that with “the level of access they gained, they almost certainly could have done more. Why they didn’t… is sort of an open-ended question. I think it fits under the larger umbrella of undermining confidence in the election by tipping their hand that they had this level of access or showing that they were capable of getting it.”
Several former Homeland Security officials explained exactly what Russian operatives could do — namely, tamper with voter registration databases.
As Lisa Monaco, a former Homeland Security advisor, explained, hackers could change her address from Smith Street to Green Street, and then an election worker could question whether she was at the right polling place.
“And if that were to happen on a large scale, I was worried about confusion at polling places, lack of confidence in the voting system, anger at a large scale in some areas, confusion, distrust,” Monaco testified. “So there was a whole sliding scale of horribles just when you’re talking about voter registration databases.”
Ready for 2020? Hindsight is 20-20, as the saying goes, but in this case so is foresight.