Election hack sows confusion

by DR. PETER BROOKES December 21, 2016

The problem with the stories about the possibility of Russia influencing this year's presidential election through computer network operations - cyberattacks or "hacking" - is that, at this point, the news raises more questions than it answers.

Various press accounts - based largely on anonymous sources, and stemming from secret CIA briefings to Congress on Russian hacking during the election season - have led to all sorts of confusion and consternation.

So it's important to put it into perspective to the extent that we can.

First, the possible interference in a U.S. election - especially a presidential election - by an outside power using any means (money, agents, cyberattacks and the like) is deeply troubling, regardless of whether the meddler is a friend or a foe.

But at this point, we don't have the full story. It appears that even the intelligence community isn't in total agreement on the motives for the hacking that led to the disclosure of Democrats' cybersecrets via WikiLeaks. At the same time, there is the issue of attempts to access state voting systems and other political targets.

The CIA seems to believe, based on those press leaks, that the Kremlin intended not only to undermine faith in the U.S. government and our democratic systems, but to influence the actual outcome of the race for the White House in favor of Donald Trump.

But the CIA, though a major intelligence player, is just one of the nation's 17 intelligence agencies; the FBI, for instance, seems to disagree with at least some parts of the CIA assessment, according to other reports.

On top of that, the director of National Intelligence (DNI) speaks for the entire intelligence community, not just the CIA. The director hasn't disclosed his view on this issue, but Fox News has reported that the DNI isn't "on same page as CIA" regarding the Russian hacking.

It should come as no surprise that President Obama has reportedly tasked the DNI to have the intelligence community's assessment on this issue on his desk before he leaves office on Jan. 20.

Of course we must be wary of a rushed assessment on this important matter - and guard against any politicization of the intelligence community's work.

Perhaps most interestingly, while it is within the purview of the intelligence community to judge a cyberattacker's intent, it seems outside their expertise to judge whether the hacker(s) had an impact. It's important to make that distinction.

So before we jump to any big conclusions, we have a lot to learn.

It makes sense to investigate this issue due to the potential gravity of the situation, especially as it relates to the security of our election system. The best body to conduct that examination is Congress.

But beyond figuring out the "who, what, when, where, why and how" of the allegations of foreign interference in the election, it is equally important, if not more important, to determine how to prevent this from happening again.

Those who would do us ill are watching closely how we react. The new Congress and the incoming Trump administration need to make cybersecurity a top national priority for a range of important U.S. political, economic and national security interests - which are being targeted daily in cyberspace.

Dr. Peter Brookes is a Senior Fellow for National Security Affairs at the Heritage Foundation and is a member of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. He writes a weekly column for the New York Post and frequently appears on FOX, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, NPR and BBC. He is the author of: "A Devil’s Triangle: Terrorism, Weapons of Mass Destruction and Rogue States." Mr. Brookes served in the U.S. Navy and is now a Commander in the naval reserves. He has over 1300 flight hours aboard Navy EP-3 aircraft. He is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy; the Defense Language Institute; the Naval War College; the Johns Hopkins University; and Georgetown University.

Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense. 
peterbrookes@heritage.org

 
Twitter: @Brookes_Peter



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