Intelligence Officials Warn Of More Russian Election Interference

Feb 14, 2018
Originally published on February 14, 2018 9:16 am
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

For more than a year now, we have heard a string of elected officials, including many on this program, say they think it's vital that the United States block any further Russian interference in U.S. elections. Now another election is approaching, and many of those same officials say the United States is not prepared. One of the lawmakers is Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia. He got a chance to question the leaders of U.S. intelligence agencies at a hearing yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARK WARNER: I'd like each of you to briefly reconfirm that our intelligence community understands this threat.

MICHAEL S. ROGERS: This is not going to change or stop.

ROBERT ASHLEY JR.: Yes, it is not going to change, nor is it going to stop.

DAN COATS: We have not seen any evidence of any significant change from last year.

INSKEEP: The responses there come from leaders of the National Security Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency as well as Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence.

Our next guest once led the House Intelligence Committee, former Republican Congressman Mike Rogers. Welcome back to the program, sir.

MICHAEL J. ROGERS: Steve, thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: Why would there not be a national strategy to deal with Russian interference at this point?

MICHAEL J. ROGERS: Well, for the same reason I think we have a very difficult time trying to get our hands around cyberattacks writ large, even to our private sector - very complicated, hard to get your finger on the pulse of the problem. But there are some options. And I hope - hopefully, that's what yesterday spurred on is a whole-of-government approach to those...

INSKEEP: What are the options?

MICHAEL J. ROGERS: Well, you can be disruptive. In other words, you can have our National Security Agency figure out - where are these bots coming from? Can we identify them? Can we disrupt them in their activity? Can you disrupt that activity cyberwise, even where it starts? And either - sometimes they use cutouts in the former Soviet Republic states or even Russia itself. So it's aggressive.

INSKEEP: What you're talking about - there are individuals who are creating these bots, or basically bogus social media messages, to influence the discussion in the United States. You cannot just wait for that attack to arrive. You can go after them, you think.

MICHAEL J. ROGERS: Well, it's not as easy as it sounds. But you have to have some disruptive capability, which means you're going to have to go overseas and, as we used to say in the cyberbusiness, flick them in the forehead. It's difficult to do, but it can be done. And you've got to make the cost of their operation not worth their effort. And that's where we haven't gotten to yet.

INSKEEP: Can there be a national strategy without presidential leadership, Mr. Rogers?

MICHAEL J. ROGERS: Well, there can. It's better to have presidential leadership on it. Yesterday at the hearing, you noticed that all of the intelligence agencies were already marching out on trying to figure out what their role could be. A whole-of-government effort starting with the president would be, I think, the most beneficial.

INSKEEP: Well, can there be, given that the president has only acknowledged in the most reluctant or in passing way that there was Russian interference at all? He's talked about the idea of collusion as a hoax. And he even said that Vladimir Putin means it when Putin tells him he didn't do it.

MICHAEL J. ROGERS: Yeah, none of that's helpful. And the interesting thing on this, Steve, is President Trump has done more to push back on Russia in the last year than the previous administration did in eight. He's armed the Ukrainian rebels. They implemented older sanctions. They haven't implemented the new ones that Congress passed. They've made it difficult on them, which makes me scratch my head why we wouldn't engage in this very robust, whole-of-government protection of what, kind of, we know is going to happen in the 2018 election.

INSKEEP: Are you also scratching your head as to why the administration has not implemented those newer sanctions, which were specifically passed by Congress to respond to the 2016 election interference?

MICHAEL J. ROGERS: I am - I am. And, you know, if I were the old chairman, what I would have done is brought up the officials every week and put them through a very difficult day in order for them to get to comply with the law. You can't allow the administration not to pass something that is very specific in the law. Now, there may be a national security reason of which they've articulated in the classified space that we wouldn't know about. But my guess is that they just haven't gotten that far on implementation.

INSKEEP: Let me ask you about one other thing, and that's interference with actual vote counting, with actual ballots - ballot security. As you know, it is believed that someone - Russians most likely - interfered or tried to explore in different ways the vote-counting systems in numerous states in 2016. Do you believe that the United States - or that individual states have made adequate preparations to prepare for that to happen again and worse?

MICHAEL J. ROGERS: No, I don't. And that's one of the big worries. So they took a shot at it last go-round, didn't - weren't quite successful. We don't believe they changed any votes. But what we have seen is that they haven't stopped trying and stopped trying to put themselves in a position where they could do it again.

And the one thing that saved us in America is that it's not a single federal system that states use in voting. Each state has its own. That has been a bit of a protection in

this. But what we do know is that they're going to find the weakest link, and it might not be in the whole of a state. It might be in a district. It might be in a precinct. And any time that they're successful with that is a concern. So I know there's efforts underway to try to prepare the states, but we're not there where we need to be yet.

INSKEEP: Mike Rogers, thanks very much.

MICHAEL J. ROGERS: Hey - thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: He's the former Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.