Both our intelligence agencies and the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee concluded beyond any doubt that Russia intervened in the 2016 election in order to help elect Donald Trump. Now, four years later and armed with more sophisticated digital weapons and the benefits of its 2016 experience, Russia is doing it again. Despite Donald Trump’s repudiation of our intelligence agencies and his continuing denials, America has been and continues to be attacked by Russia. Our Cold War enemy is deploying an array of state-of-the-art, high-tech hacking devices, trolls and bots against our American democracy with the intention of re-electing a president who is the best thing that ever happened to Vladimir Putin and his acolytes.
Russia’s Internet Research Agency, the culprit of 2016, has now been joined by a slew of additional state-run Russian troll factories in an all-out effort to corrupt and pervert the 2020 election and do whatever is necessary to steal it for Donald Trump.
Meanwhile, a passive, servile administration and its spineless congressional Republican accomplices turn a blind eye to what amounts to a declaration of war, intent on doing nothing about it so long as they benefit from it. So much for defending a 240-year-old democracy that served us so well until a would-be despot came on the scene. Trump’s betrayal is two-fold: (1) he refuses to address our cyber vulnerabilities and protect us; and (2) he refuses to unleash our own very powerful cyber weapons against Russia in retaliation.
Richard Clarke, the U.S. National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counter-terrorism, who worked for both Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, has for years been advocating an aggressive stance toward this undeclared Russian war on the U.S. Trump has ignored this option because his own political and personal interests always prevail over our national interest.
Moreover, because running ads from Russian trolls is big money for Facebook and other social media platforms, don’t put your money on Mark Zuckerberg and his greed-obsessed ilk to protect us against this sabotage of our voting process. The Russians learned in 2016 that American social media would not stop them from creating fiction and promoting it as real. Another lesson they learned is how gullible Americans who get so much of their information from already dubious U.S. internet sources are and how easily they can be influenced by lies. Almost four years of Trump has only locked that in even more.
So here we are less than 100 days from the most consequential presidential election in our history, prostrate before our enemies. Trump’s treasonous avoidance of any counter measures is allowed to continue without any check. The U.S. military’s Cyber Command is prevented from reacting while America is under attack, prohibited from responding by Trump, who dares not offend the Russians.
Must we wait for a new administration to go on offense and take the fight to the Russians? No. The leadership vacuum can be partially filled right now by presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Biden should publicly warn Putin that if he continues to undermine our democracy, there will come a day when Trump is out of office and his policy of abject surrender will be reversed, replaced by a retaliatory policy of aggressive cyber offense. We have the capability to harm Russia’s fossil fuel delivery systems, its connectivity systems, its electrical grid and some of its military capabilities. Biden needs to make it clear that, as president, he will make Russia pay. Threatening Russia now is the only way to deter it from attacking us. It may not work because it is so very much in Putin’s interest to see Trump continue in office. Nevertheless, it is worth a try. Putin may not want to gamble on a Trump victory to save his country from the disruption a cyber-attack could cause.
Canandaigua Academy graduate Richard Hermann is a law professor, legal blogger, author of seven books and part-time resident of the Finger Lakes.