How Russia’s Election Hacking Came To America This Time

Illustration for article titled How Russia’s Election Hacking Came To America This Timeem/em

Virginia Senator Mark Warner said today that Russian military intelligence attacks against the 2016 U.S. election were far broader than what was reported in The Intercept’s devastating story on Russia’s attempts at election-hacking across the United States, a story that detailed cyberattacks on voting machines and election officials themselves.


“I don’t believe they got into changing actual voting outcomes,” Virginia Sen. Mark Warner said in an interview with USA TODAY. “But the extent of the attacks is much broader than has been reported so far.”

Warner wants intelligence agencies to declassify the states hit to help them prepare for possible attacks during midterm voting in 2018.


The Intercept reported yesterday that a top-secret NSA document they obtained reveals Russian military intelligence cyberattacked at least one U.S. voting software supplier and deployed spear-phishing emails to local election officials leading up to Election Day.

Before The Intercept’s report, the public only knew America’s intelligence communities agreed the Kremlin influenced the election, but were provided few specific details. A November New York Magazine report speculating that Russia could have tried to hack into election booths made rounds, but was quickly shot down due to lack of direct proof.

(It should be noted that The Intercept’s story came at great cost; their source on the story, named by federal investigators as 25-year-old NSA contractor Reality Leigh Winner, was arrested on Saturday and charged with removing classified material. As The Washington Post notes, the outlet appears to have made several security missteps that led to Winner being outed as the alleged source.)

Yesterday’s bombshell report, however, brings some validity to those claims of Russian electioneering. But Americans should not feel alone in all of this. Russia has done this before to its own neighbors.


Estonia, Georgia, Ukraine, and other nations have accused Russia of trying to influence their country’s internal affairs. Though what makes this latest allegation against the Kremlin even more bold is that they attempted to completely take the power of the America vote out of the hands of every day citizens. This is very different from attacking a power grid, in the case of Ukraine. Or launching an attack against the Georgian government’s internal computer systems and making a collage of its former president face juxtaposed against Hitler’s face.


With America, the Kremlin wanted to take away one of the post powerful tools we have: the ballot, a citizen’s power to determine their own leadership unfettered.

If you think about it, it would make sense for Russian President Vladimir Putin to target voting booths. (Yes, any operation like this is doesn’t go down unless Putin approves it.) It is not a secret that Putin blames Hillary Clinton, Obama’s former Secretary of State, for the mass protests in Russia organized against him from 2011 to 2013. Hacking voting booths and changing votes would be quite an act of revenge. There is no proof that this actually happened and Trump would go on to win the election without such interference.


But, the fact that Clinton won the popular vote by more than three million ballots yet lost the election only speaks to the power of voting and why the Kremlin wanted to target it so badly. In Russia, the Kremlin doesn’t have to work that hard to influence its own elections. Its elections are regularly accused of widespread fraud and voter intimidation.

During the 2012 presidential election in Russia, men at one polling station were so bold that they openly stuffed ballots in front of a camera. Check out the video below:

International organizations found that at least one-third of the polling stations they visited had troubling irregularities, according to a New York Times report.


And when Russians organized nationwide protests in 2011 against Putin and his party, United Russia, over what many believed were unfair elections that year, Putin approved anti-protest laws that jail Russians for, well, protesting. Because Putin believes Clinton was behind the protests, it makes perfect sense that he would return the favor.

As far as we know, there is no proof that Russian military intelligence was successful in hacking voting machines. What is becoming more clear is that the Russians damn sure tried, and while it may be the first time they’ve tried here, it’s happened before elsewhere.

Terrell Jermaine Starr is a senior reporter at The Root. He is currently writing a book proposal that analyzes US-Russia relations from a black perspective.

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Here’s the real question, regardless of political views, what do we do about it? No matter what side of the ailse you’re on, it should piss you off that it was even attempted, but how do we respond?

Sanctions? Harsh words? A strong scowl? They knew going into this that even if we found a smoking gun in Putin’s hand we’d never do a damn thing about it. That’s the most frustrating part is, there’s no good answer with any teeth to it that doesn’t involve a straight up conflict or at least escalating an already uneasy situation.