The July 31st edition of Time included a special report on “Inside the Secret Plan to Stop Vladimir Putin’s U.S. Election Plot” by Massimo Calabresi. The article details the federal government’s attempt to secure the 2016 elections after it became apparent that Russian hackers had broken into more than 20 state and local voter election systems. The 15 page previously undisclosed plan is here.
In June of 2016, voter registration databases were successfully changed by hackers in California which led to the need to use provisional ballots in the primary elections. Three weeks afterward in Illinois, along with a similar attack in Arizona, a Russian agent accessed the state’s voter-registration site and uploaded malicious software (SQL) which “opened a back door to all 15 million files on past and current voters”. The hackers were successful in stealing 90,0000 files before an alarm was triggered when they attempted to download all 15 million files. Changes made to voter registrations were caught by the FBI as there was a full backup of the system before the SQL attack. These brazen attacks, among others, signaled that the Russians’ game plan had changed from collecting intelligence, as had been done in previous election cycles, to a “possible intent to meddle with the vote.”
As the administration worked to halt the damage, Trump continuously denied Moscow’s involvement with the hacking and blamed the Democratic National Committee (DNC) of hacking itself. With the stolen email dump prior to the DNC convention, he doubled down on the claims. As if on cue, August 1st, he said, “I’m afraid the election is going to be rigged.” Two days later, when the Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, said he was considering declaring elections “part of the U.S. critical infrastructure, along with…the banking and electrical systems,” it was met with suspicion of partisanship by many of the states which seriously hampered the administration’s ability to respond to the attacks.
The continuous fueling of anti-government suspicion by Trump seemed to work in his favor as it made the President reticent to issue a stronger statement nationally as it would be portrayed as political meddling in favor of the Democratic candidate. President Obama did warn Putin and put into place a plan to counteract a full-out Russian attack on our election. In the meantime, the attacks continued with infiltration attempts into most states, including the electoral systems of Florida and New Mexico.
The election went off “free and fair from a cybersecurity perspective” according to officials, however, doubts about the security of our election system are spreading. The FBI’s counterintelligence probe about Russia aiding Trump’s campaign only began in earnest after the elections. The FBI’s preoccupation with Clinton’s emails prior to the election resulted in their Russian probe not getting “any intelligence legs until after the election,” a puzzling and disturbing blunder with questionable political overtones.
As the administration cozies up to Putin and the focus on methods of protecting our elections from Russian interference disappears, fears about fair elections are becoming widespread. With Trump’s creation of an “election-integrity commission” demanding the centralization of voters’ personal information from every state, many worry the true goal of the commission is voter suppression of Democratic voters. Republican efforts to defund the $8 million Election Assistance Commission (EAC), which guides states in conducting fair and safe elections, is being met with suspicion as well.
A recent Gallup poll found most Americans (70%) are not confident in the honesty of our electoral system. What a disaster for our democracy, especially since the current power structure seems to be quite happy with the situation and is tightening the noose on fair elections with additional questionable tactics. When finally no one has the confidence to show up to vote, they’ve won and we’ll have a permanent government in place, no voters necessary. A government of the oligarchs, by the oligarchs, for the oligarchs.