Esquire - Charlie Pierce: If the Russians Got into Voting Machines, I Fear for the Republic
The evidence is building—if we can handle the truth.
Ground zero in Russia's hack of U.S. election infrastructure
60 Minutes investigates Russia’s widespread cyberattack against state voting systems
The threat Russia posed to our democratic process was deemed so great, the Obama Administration took the unprecedented step of using the cyber hotline – the cybersecurity equivalent of the nuclear hotline – to warn the Kremlin to stop its assault on state election systems. Russian operatives had launched a widespread cyberattack against state voting systems around the country. Bill Whitaker goes to Illinois, where election officials were the first to report and defend against the cyber strike for a 60 Minutes report to be broadcast Sunday, April 8 at 7:00 p.m., ET/PT on CBS.
It began with a call from a staffer at the Illinois Board of Elections headquarters in Springfield to Steve Sandvoss, the executive director. "I picked up the phone. And it's like, 'Steve, we got a problem.' And I said, 'Okay, what happened?' He says, 'We've been hacked.' I said, 'Oh my God.'" The server for the voter registration database, with the personal information of 7.5 million Illinois voters, had slowed to a crawl. The IT team discovered a malicious attack. "I suppose you could analogize it to a fast-growing tumor-- in the system. It was unlike anything we had ever seen," Sandvoss recalls.
Today, seven months from the midterm elections, key members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence tell Bill Whitaker much more needs to be done to secure the election infrastructure at the heart of America's democracy. Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) and Senator James Lankford (R-Oklahoma) say the U.S. needs a comprehensive strategy to fight cyber war but concede upgrading systems around the country by the 2020 presidential election will be a challenge. They are backing legislation to set minimum cyber security standards.
"This could be the Iranians next time, could be the North Koreans next time," says Lankford. "This is something that's been exposed as a weakness in our system that we need to be able to fix that, not knowing who could try to test it out next time," he tells Whitaker.
The sweep of the Russian operation in 2016 caught the Obama administration off guard. Michael Daniel, President Obama's cyber czar, envisioned a troubling scenario: hacked voter rolls causing chaos on Election Day. "Lines begin to form. Election officials can't figure out what's going on," says Daniel. "You would only have to do it in a few places. And it would almost feed on itself."
Isaac Chotiner interviews Michael McFaul on his new book, From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin’s Russia.
Michael McFaul on Russian disinformation and the lost promise of Medvedev. ...
Every time I interview someone who spent a lot of time in Moscow or spent a lot of time around the Russian elite, I like to ask them what they make of the Russia scandal, because I find people often have a different take than people here do. What’s your perspective on it?
When I was the U.S. ambassador, I experienced firsthand this disinformation put out about me. I guess we call it fake news now. They put out nasty things about me that were just untrue. They were untrue. They would Photoshop my image on posters, and made it sound like I was trying to overthrow the regime. The bottom of it, real bottom-feeding, was when they put out a video of me suggesting that I was a pedophile. That level of disinformation and just grotesque stuff, I experienced early on. That part that is all revelatory for people that don’t understand the Russian system as well, I knew back then, because they had been using those tactics not just against me but against opposition leaders as well.
By the way, I think there’s a lot more coming on that front, because the technology is getting better. I’m scared of that world, where you’re going to watch a video of me someday, and it’s going to look like me and sound like me, but the words are not going to be mine. It’s going to be hard to know whether it’s really me or not. The Russians have invested heavily in those kinds of technologies. That’s the one I would say where what I experienced and what we saw in 2016, I see continuity.
Second, and I don’t want to get ahead of my skis here, because I don’t know where the investigation will end and what Mr. Mueller’s going to find, but I do know that Vladimir Putin uses surrogates all the time, business surrogates, to create leverage with people through business arrangements, usually through corrupt business arrangements. That’s how he creates leverage against the oligarchs inside of Russia, and that’s how he operates in parts of the post-Soviet world. That murky world of giving money, paying three times the price for this, that, and the other, those are very common Putin instruments of influence that I have seen up close and personal in Russia. I won’t be surprised by that part.
The part that does surprise me was the audacity of the intervention. Both the stealing of the emails, and publishing them through surrogates, sending Russians into our country acting as Americans. I’ve lived in Russia for six or seven years of my life. I’ve known Putin since 1991. Even I was shocked by the chutzpah and the audacity of those activities. I would not have predicted that in 2016.