Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin have a preference in the United States’ 2020 presidential election, and it isn’t former Vice President Joe Biden. Efforts by Russian operatives to interfere in this year’s election — just as they interfered in 2016’s presidential election — and help President Donald Trump win a second term have been well documented. Journalist Franklin Foer, this week in an article for The Atlantic, warns that the Kremlin will be relentless this time.
“Events in the United States have unfolded more favorably than any operative in Moscow could have ever dreamed,” Foer explains. “Not only did Russia’s preferred candidate win (in 2016), but he has spent his first term fulfilling the potential it saw in him — discrediting American institutions, rending the seams of American culture, and isolating a nation that had styled itself as indispensable to the free world. But instead of complacently enjoying its triumph, Russia almost immediately set about replicating it. Boosting the Trump campaign was a tactic; #DemocracyRIP remains the larger objective.”
The United States’ election vulnerabilities, Foer warns, have “widened, not narrowed, during the past four years.” And Trump, according to Foer, “has dismissed Russian interference as a hoax and fired or threatened intelligence officials who have contradicted that narrative, all while professing his affinity for the very man who ordered this assault on American democracy.”
Foer is, of course, referring to Putin.
“The Russians have learned much about American weaknesses and how to exploit them,” Foer notes. “Having probed state voting systems far more extensively than is generally understood by the public, they are now surely more capable of mayhem on Election Day — and possibly, without leaving a detectable trace of their handiwork. Having hacked into the inboxes of political operatives in the U.S. and abroad, they’ve pioneered new techniques for infiltrating campaigns and disseminating their stolen goods…. Russia’s interference in 2016 might be remembered as the experimental prelude that foreshadowed the attack of 2020.”
Foer specifies some of the United States’ election vulnerabilities, observing that the U.S. has “alluring targets: the vendors, niche companies that sell voting equipment to states and localities, the employees of those governments — each with passwords that can be stolen — voting machines that connect to the internet to transmit election results.”
Putin supporters in Russia, Foer adds, could use malware to go after U.S. voter databases.
“If the Russians attached such a bug to a voter registration database, they could render an entire election logistically unfeasible,” Foer warns. “Tracking who had voted and where they’d voted would be impossible.”
Foer adds, “But Russia need not risk such a devastating attack. It can simply meddle with voter registration databases, which are filled with vulnerabilities…. Such meddling could stop short of purging voters from the rolls and still cause significant disruptions: hackers could flip the digits in addresses, so that voters’ photo IDs no longer match the official records. When people arrived at the polls, they would likely still be able to vote, but might be forced to cast provisional ballots. The confusion and additional paperwork would generate long lines and stoke suspicion about the underlying integrity of the election.”