Senator King: US lacks defense against Russian cyber attacks

By Susan Mustapich | Jul 10, 2018
Photo by: Susan Mustapich U.S. Senator Angus King, member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, spoke July 7 in Camden about threats posed by Russian cyber interference in the 2016 presidential election.

CAMDEN — U.S. Senator Angus King cited threats posed to American democracy by Russia's cyber interference in the 2016 Presidential Election, the likelihood Russia will interfere with U.S. elections again, and President Donald Trump's lack of leadership in protecting Americans against this threat, as major concerns during a July 7 speech in Camden.

He called the election interference "a deliberate, conscious and sophisticated attack on our Democracy that was approved at the highest levels of the Russian government by Vladimir Putin."

The Independent U.S. Senator, and former Maine governor, spoke before a full house in the Camden Opera House, at an event sponsored by the locally-based Mid-Coast Forum on Foreign Relations. Doors opened at 6 p.m., and the auditorium was nearly full by 6:15 p.m. People were turned away when all seats were filled, before the event began at 7 p.m.

Sitting onstage with moderator Tom DeMarco, King addressed the audience of 500 people in a conversational tone, mingling humor and plugs for bipartisanship with his serious topic.

He addressed how the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation into Russian interference differs from the Robert Mueller investigation. Mueller's is a criminal investigation of counter espionage, he said. "The Intelligence Committee is focusing on "What happened? What are the facts? And particularly, how can we prevent it from happening again."

He confirmed the committee is investigating "the collusion piece. I can't and won't say anything now about where we are on that," he said. He did say the committee has interviewed about 150 witnesses, and hopes to conclude within the next few months.

Intelligence Committee report

The Intelligence Committee issued a report July 3 on Russia's interference in the presidential election, which backs the findings of a January 2017 report issued by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and CIA, FBI and National Security Agency assessments.

King heralded the report as a product of bipartisanship. He said there was "no disagreement on the conclusion that it was a sophisticated program, Russians were behind it, Putin approved it, and it was intended to try to elect Donald Trump." The committee's report backs the intelligence community's January 2017 assessment, he said.

King believes the Russians' "initial intention was to sow discord and undermine our system. The secondary intention was to undermine Hillary Clinton, who Putin didn't like. And then finally, in midsummer 2016, it became a deliberate effort to elect Donald Trump."

State elections

He sees the potential danger of Russian probing into state election systems as the possible provocation of a Constitutional crisis. While he backs the conclusion that no votes were changed, and the outcomes of elections were not affected, he believes the Russians had a "sinister" purpose.

"They don't necessarily have to change the results," he said. "All they have to do is call the results into question, and we've got a crisis in this country."

He said that during hearings held with secretaries of state, the committee heard that the states "are all set" and there is "no problem."

"I'm not fully confident of that," he said.

The audience applauded as King stated the recommendations of the Intelligence Committee.

"No election in this country should ever be carried forward without a paper ballot backup," he said. "No voting machine should ever be connected to the Internet."


He credited the Senate Intelligence Committee for working "really hard to keep our committee bipartisan. It's not a homogeneous committee."

"We've got John Cornyn, Tom Cotton and Jim Risch, (Republicans), Kamala Harris, Ron Wyden and Dianne Feinstein (Democrats). Anybody who thinks that's a homogeneous committee – you don't know my world," he said to audience laughter.

He called the bipartisanship particularly important, "when you compare our work with the House of Representatives, which has basically become completely partisan. Whatever we do, the more unanimity we can have, the more bipartisan, the more credible it is to the American people."

King brought the house down with a story about a conversation he had after Intelligence Committee chairman Sen. Richard Burr (R) and vice chairman Sen. Mark Warner (D), held a joint press conference to assure the public the committee would get to the bottom of Russian interference issues.

King recalls that in appreciation of the bipartisan and positive nature of the press conference, he said to Burr, “Richard, that was a great press conference. You and Mark did a terrific job. It's important for the American people to be together on this. Like they say in Hamilton, 'History has it's eyes on you.'

And Richard took one step back, and said 'Angus, I don't know if you want to quote Hamilton to me, since my great, great grandfather shot him.' ”

Social media meddling

Returning to a serious tone, King cited examples of Russian social media interference geared to "foment conflict. One involved promotion of a demonstration in Austin by two Russian-backed websites. One website backed the message of getting Muslims out of Texas, while the other supported Muslims in America. Another example is Russians talking both sides on the "take a knee" issue, King said.

He said Republican committee member Marco Rubio "gets this most viscerally." King shares Rubio's concern about Internet-based technology that can create a "fake reality" by recording a public speech, altering the audio, and producing a new speech where the person is saying something completely different than what they said.

"If you combine that with the way social media works it can be dangerous, because you can never catch up with it. It's like trying to grab smoke," King said.

"This is a very disturbing issue, because democracy is based on information," he said.  "If we don't have information, and in fact have misinformation, we're in real trouble."

No deterrence

The U.S. government has no doctrine of deterrence when it comes to cyber warfare, King said. Citing the nuclear deterrent of mutually assured destruction, King said nuclear weapons haven't been used for 75 years, principally because of deterrence.

He sees the current U.S. strategy as "entirely defensive. If you're in a fight, and all you can do is defend, you're ultimately going to lose."

He sees the hacking of the emails of the Democratic National Committee as an attack on our country. "What if they had dropped a group of paratroopers into Washington in the night and grabbed those computers and pulled them out. That would have been an act of war. And yet, effectively, that was what was done. And there was no response."

King sees the problem as bipartisan, and existing before Trump was elected. He calls for the creation of a cyber doctrine. "We need to have an offensive capability that is not a secret," he said.

Early warnings

Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee heard warnings that Russians would interfere with the 2016 presidential election in Spring 2016, during a trip to Eastern Europe and Ukraine.

During that trip, the members ended up in Paris the day of the Brussels airport terrorist attack, King said. They spent the entire day with French intelligence officials.

"A lot of the discussion was, 'Watch out for the Russians, they're going to mess with your elections,' " he said. "This was at a time when no one was thinking about this."

At the time, this concern was not high on the committee's list, according to King.

By the fall of 2016, King was asking for advice from officials from countries experienced with Russian interference in elections. On one occasion, he spent an hour and a half with a group of leaders from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, invited to an Armed Services Committee round table, who were warning about possible Russian interference in the U.S. Election.

"I asked them, how do you defend yourself?," he said. 'We can't shut down the Internet, we can't turn off the television."

"Their answer was the best defense is for the people to know it's happening, so that people would be aware of it, and take it with a grain of salt."

Faulting Trump

King believes Trump's failure to acknowledge the Russian cyber attacks leading up to the 2016 presidential election "has taken that defense away from a large portion of the American people. It has obscured the reality of what they're (Russians) are doing on all levels."

He sees the that President's "concern about his campaign colluding with the Russians has swallowed the larger story."

"The problem I have with the President's reaction to this is he seems unwilling or unable to separate the issue of whether his campaign was involved, and what happened," King said. These are two separate things. Lumping them together and continuing to call this a witch hunt and a hoax has crippled our ability to respond to it in a full and proper way that will allow our country to avoid falling into this trap again."

King wants President Trump to add to his message to the American people that the Russians conducted "an unprecedented attack on our Democracy and they’re going to try to do it again. And we need to do everything we can to stop it.’”

Mid-Coast Forum on Foreign Relations director Tom DeMarco, left, moderated the event with U.S. Sen. Angus King at the Camden Opera House July 7. (Photo by: Susan Mustapich)
The Mid-Coast Foreign Relations forum with U.S. Sen. Angus King filled the Camden Opera House to capacity July 7. (Photo by: Susan Mustapich)
Many waited to speak with U.S. Sen. Angus King one-on-one after his talk on the work of the Senate Intelligence Committee, of which he is a member. (Photo by: Susan Mustapich)
Comments (3)
Posted by: Ronald Horvath | Jul 11, 2018 17:20

"an unprecedented attack on our Democracy and they’re going to try to do it again."  And we all know why, and for who's benefit, don't we?


"An overseas enemy struck at the core of the republic—and it succeeded. Trump and his minions helped and encouraged this attack by engaging in secret contacts with Moscow and publicly insisting no such assault was happening. This is far bigger than a bribe, a break-in, or a bj. And, worse, the United States remains vulnerable to such a strike.

Yet the full impact of this scandal does not resonate in the daily coverage and discourse. In many ways, the media presents the Russia scandal mostly as a political threat to Trump, not as a serious threat to the nation. And many Americans, thanks to Trump and his allies, view it as a charade. All this shows how easy it is for disinformation and demagoguery to distort reality. That is a tragedy for the United States. For Trump—and Putin—that is victory.”

Posted by: Edwin E Ecker | Jul 11, 2018 16:20

Mr. King has not a clue about foreign policy or for that matter anything to do with politics, he is just in it for the notoriety and nothing else !


Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Jul 10, 2018 16:27

Excellent article about a well received and powerful presentation by Senator King.   Was fortunate enough to get a seat.


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