As part of the ongoing fallout from the 2016 election and Russia’s attempts to interfere in the American political process, the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence has released the final report of its own investigation. The report is heavily redacted but reaches significant conclusions, some of which pertain to the three-year-old conspiracy theory involving Russian officials and President Donald Trump.
Much of the report details the ways in which foreign adversaries – most believed to have ties to the Russian government – attempted to gather intelligence and raw data on the US electoral process and on American voters. These efforts spanned many states, targeting election infrastructures and voter registration rolls.
Conclusions on Russian Interference
The 67-page report goes into great detail about how the election infrastructures in certain states were targeted and how multiple federal and state agencies communicated with each other – sometimes in inefficient and ineffective ways – in attempts to protect the integrity of the electoral process and stem the potential theft of raw data.
The committee was unable to ascertain, with any certainty, the intent behind efforts to compromise US elections:
“While the Committee does not know with confidence what Moscow’s intentions were, Russia may have been probing vulnerabilities in voting systems to exploit later. Alternatively, Moscow may have sought to undermine confidence in the 2016 U.S. elections simply through the discovery of their activity.”
It has been long claimed by the president’s political enemies, of course, that Moscow’s main intention was to ensure Donald Trump became president. The final report from the now-defunct special counsel – tasked with investigating Russian interference – even alleged that the Russians had communicated to the Trump campaign their desire to see him elected. In fact, there is no possible way to divine, for certain, Moscow’s preferred outcome.
Given Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intelligence background, it would seem far more likely that he would have preferred to deal with Hillary Clinton – who the Russians knew and understood well – than the unknown and unpredictable element of a President Trump. Indeed, the Russians almost certainly assumed Clinton would become America’s next president. Why would they have had any reason to believe Trump would win the election? Almost nobody else did, after all.
Thus, Russian efforts to turn opinion against Clinton had less to do with wanting Trump to win than with trying to undermine and destabilize the presumed future President Clinton. Additionally, the Senate report found no evidence that the Russian efforts extended to altering vote-counts
In any event, the information war allegedly waged against Clinton by certain Russian entities was paltry in comparison to the information war waged against both candidates by activist and special interest groups within the United States. To put all this in perspective, it is worth remembering that the establishment media in the US poured many, many times more money and effort into preventing Trump from winning the 2016 election than the Russians put into preventing Clinton from winning it.
The Senate report, quoting from the 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA), states that the Russians were “prepared to publicly call into question the validity of the [2016 election] results.” The ICA is further quoted as stating: “pro-Kremlin bloggers had prepared a Twitter campaign, #DemocracyRIP, on election night in anticipation of Secretary Clinton’s victory.” Even according to the US intelligence community, then, the Russians had indeed anticipated that Clinton would win the election.
Weaknesses in the System
The main takeaway from the Senate committee’s report, though, was the vulnerability of America’s decentralized and non-uniform election systems. The report suggests Congress take a greater role in securing federal elections, but acknowledges that states should take the lead in improving their respective voting infrastructures.
That many states are still using outdated or inadequate electronic voting equipment is unacceptable. The need for a paper trail is also vital: In truth, the most secure way to run an election is to use only paper ballots deposited by voters themselves into ballot boxes, and to then guarantee a proper chain of custody for those boxes until they are opened and the ballots counted.
It remains to be seen how much improvement can be made before the 2020 general election. Unfortunately – and regardless of the results – there may be a considerable amount of uncertainty, insecurity, and recrimination following the election. Should Trump win re-election, the country will, no doubt, have to endure several additional months – if not years – of accusations that the Russians were behind his victory. Ironically, and regardless of the extent of Russia’s interference in 2020, such claims would play right into Moscow’s hands.