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America’s enemies are using cyberattacks to undermine our 2018 midterm elections, continuing the onslaught of hacking and false information on social media seen in the 2016 presidential election.

Leaders of U.S. intelligence agencies delivered that troubling assessment Tuesday to in testimony to Congress.

“We have seen Russian activity and intentions to have an impact on the next election cycle,” CIA Director Mike Pompeo told the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Examples of Russian meddling include:

Russians tried to hack into the election systems of 21 states in 2016, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said in September. Montana wasn’t one of those states.

Russian agents spent tens of thousands of dollars on Google ads, including YouTube and Google’s search engine, Gmail and DoubleClick, according to news reports last fall.

The same troll farm linked to the Kremlin bought ads on Facebook promoting anti-immigrant and racist sentiments.

CBS News reported Tuesday that Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said the U.S. is "under attack" by "entities using cyber to penetrate virtually every major action that takes place in the U.S." Coats said that from the business world to local governments, the U.S. is "threatened by cyberattacks every day" by using elections as an opportunity to "sow discord and undermine our values."

Coats said Russia is a likely to pursue "more aggressive attacks with intent to degrade Democratic values" as well as global alliances. "It's just common sense if someone attacks you and there's no retribution or response, it's going to incentivize more contacts," Coats said.

Russia will "continue using propaganda, social media, false flag personas and sympathetic spokesmen to build on its wide range of operations and exacerbate social and political issues in the U.S," Coats said.

Congress overwhelmingly supported legislation last year to impose sanctions on Russia as a consequence of its attempts to disrupt our 2016 elections with messages that aimed to exacerbate divisions and mistrust in American institutions. Among other things, the law requires President Trump to impose sanctions on anyone who “knowingly engages in a significant transaction with a person that is part of, or operates for or on behalf of, the defense or intelligence sectors” of the Russian government. If the Trump administration found a loophole in that law, the loophole needs to be closed.

The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act passed the U.S. Senate with all but two senators (Rand Paul and Mike Lee) in favor. It passed the House 419-3 and Trump signed it into law last July. But the Trump administration has decided not to impose sanctions required under the law. At the end of January, the administration announced it had decided to exempt large purchasers of Russian military equipment from the sanctions, thus allowing Russia to maintain its lucrative warfare market.

That law was written to prevent the president from lifting existing sanctions against Russia. Those sanctions were put in place by the Obama administration after Russia invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014. In addition to punishing Russia for interfering in 2016 elections, the 2017 sanctions were intended to provide a consequence for Russia’s military role in escalating the war in Syria.

Congress was right to respond to Russia’s attacks on our democracy. But Trump has failed to hold Vladimir Putin accountable. The lack of serious consequences for the cyber assaults of 2016 is outrageous as Americans learn from our top intelligence officials that the Russian disinformation campaign through internet and social media continues unchecked and unabated.

America must shore up its cyber defenses. Citizens must be made aware so they can protect themselves. Congress must give high priority to devising and enforcing strong responses and defenses to the Russian cyber threats. Trump has abdicated that duty to protect us.

— The Billings Gazette


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