Senate finds Russian election meddling is worse than we knew — but GOP still won't act

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A new report from the Senate Intelligence Committee shows the Russians targeted election systems in all 50 states. Mitch McConnell doesn't care.

It's been quite the week, Russia-wise. On Wednesday, former special counsel Robert Mueller went before Congress and testified that the Russians were still interfering in U.S. elections and "they're doing it as we sit here."

But on Thursday, Sen. Mitch McConnell blocked two election security bills that would have strengthened our election system. He said Democrats were only passing bills requiring paper ballots and funding the Election Assistance Commission for "political benefit." Of course, there's no way that either of those gives an edge to Democrats, but perhaps McConnell feels the GOP retains an edge if he lets the Russians meddle.

And make no mistake, Russian meddling is far more widespread than had first been realized. On Thursday, right around the time McConnell was refusing to let the Senate even take a vote, the Senate Intelligence Committee issued a bipartisan report saying election systems in all 50 states had been targeted by Russia during the 2016 elections. Worse, they gained some level of access in 21 states.

The good news is that there's no evidence the Russians were able to change or manipulate votes in any of those states. The bad news is that in at least one state — Illinois — the Russians gained a level of access where they could have deleted or changed votes.

They could also have been setting the stage for further interference. One cybersecurity expert told the committee Russian efforts looked like they were "conducting the reconnaissance...so that you could actually understand the network, establish a presence so you could come back later and actually execute an operation."

The Intelligence Committee has been working on this report for two-and-a-half years, and the 67-page report issued Thursday is only one of five volumes it will release over the next month. A good portion of the report is redacted because of ongoing intelligence concerns, but what one can read is startling enough.

The report noted Russia "exploited the seams between federal authorities and capabilities, and protections for the states." That's because the federal intelligence apparatus didn't properly warn or prepare the states, which conduct elections, to handle an attack.

Next, the committee found, when the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the FBI got around to telling states about the hacking threat, which they didn't do until well into the 2016 general election, "the warnings did not provide enough information or go to the right people." Worse, the alerts provided "no clear reason for states to take this threat more seriously than any other alert received."

The report called for "renewed attention vulnerabilities in U.S. voting infrastructure." DHS has actually been working on this by working with states and providing additional resources for them to secure elections.

But without a legislative commitment — and legislative funding — that can't happen. As long as Mitch McConnell continues to characterize efforts to fix America's ailing voter infrastructure as "highly partisan," our election systems remain just as vulnerable as they were in 2016.

Perhaps that's exactly what the GOP wants.

Published with permission of The American Independent.