"Russia, if you are listening, I hope that you are able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press."
On the same day then-candidate Donald Trump made this appeal, a hacking operation commenced and the special counsel's subsequent indictment resulted in charges against the Russians. Clearly, the counsel's office did not address the connection between what Trump said and activity of the Russian operatives who successfully breached Hillary Clinton's office servers. Robert Mueller has spoken of Russia's systematic efforts to interfere in the 2016 election, and Trump's recent response to ABC's George Stephanopoulos' question about whether Trump would accept "dirt" from a foreign nation about an opponent has raised concerns among the electorate.
Mueller was not able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt "that the June 9 meeting participants had general knowledge that their conduct was unlawful." Mueller also concluded that because Donald Trump Jr. had misled the press and not the Congress or special counsel, the "adoption" story did not constitute an obstruction of justice. In effect, Mueller has said Trump campaign participants who met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, were not familiar with the ban on foreign meddling in the U.S. electoral process. The Mueller Report may have cleared the Trump campaign of conspiring with the Russian operatives, yet concerns about future foreign meddling in our democratic process are very real.
The cyber threat from Russia involves more than just a social media campaign to sow discord, and is not limited to the hacking of DNC emails. In December 2015, a massive power blackout in the Ukraine was attributed to Russian malware. The Obama administration said Russian hackers intended to target the power grid infrastructure in the U.S., and by 2017, a joint report issued by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security announced that hackers have been penetrating the computer networks of companies that operate energy production facilities and manufacturing plants. And it is somewhat alarming when subsequent public government warnings cite specific malware they want operators to look for in their computer networks.
The Office of the Director for National Intelligence, in its threat assessment, included a warning about the Russian government's capability to execute cyberattacks in the U.S. on critical infrastructure. A recent initiative by U.S. Cyber Command has been escalating attacks on the Russian power grid, and the New York Times, on June 15, 2019, published a report on the initiative that sent Trump into a twitter tirade. It seems the ability of malware placement on the part of both the U.S. and Russia, to disrupt the infrastructure in the event of a major conflict, has become the arms-race equivalent of cyber aggression between the superpowers.
Trump is clearly not embracing the Cyber Command initiative, as his tweet of "This is a virtual act of treason!" demonstrates, and Trump seems to be extremely uneasy with the fact that Russia is now aware of our cyber defense. I would think a U.S. president would be on board with a cyber program to counter what is a real-world threat from Russia, and legal authority that was inserted into a military authorization bill empowers these new cyber actions without permission from the White House or Congress. It is very disconcerting when Pentagon officials are keeping Trump in the dark about new cyber counter measures, but we have a president who mentioned a sensitive operation in Syria to the Russian foreign minister in 2017.
Remember, it took an overwhelming veto-proof majority in Congress to prevent Trump from lifting Russian sanctions, and it will take that same bipartisan effort to effect proper election security measures. And as FBI Director Christopher Wray has said, protecting the 2018 U.S. midterm elections from foreign meddling was a "dress rehearsal for the big show."
Brent Been is a Tahlequah educator who is currently teaching at Alice Robertson Junior High in Muskogee.