28 July 2018

How Washington Can Prevent Midterm Election Interference

By Joshua A. Geltzer and Dipayan Ghosh
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When the U.S. Department of Justice earlier this month announced indictments of 12 Russian intelligence officials for hacking the Democratic Party’s and Hillary Clinton’s e-mails in 2016, President Donald Trump’s first reaction was to blame the administration of Barack Obama for not taking action against the interference. “Why didn’t they do something about it, especially when it was reported that President Obama was informed by the FBI in September, before the Election?” he tweeted.

Trump will have no one to blame but his own administration, however, in the event of another such attack before the 2018 midterm elections. Faced with mounting evidence of continued Russian efforts “to undermine America’s democracy,” in the words of Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, the administration needs to take concrete steps to prevent further foreign interference. For a moment last month, it looked as though this were starting to happen: reports emerged that the U.S. government had met with eight leading technology companies to discuss how to safeguard the upcoming midterm elections. It was an encouraging sign that the administration seemed to be taking the threat to the United States seriously and recognizing the critical role of the private sector in protecting the integrity of the electoral process.

Unfortunately, a closer look revealed a serious flaw in this otherwise promising engagement. The New York Times reported“a tense atmosphere in which the tech companies repeatedly pressed federal officials for information, only to be told—repeatedly—that no specific intelligence would be shared.” This tight-lipped approach was apparently one-sided. Although the tech companies were open about what kinds of disinformation they were monitoring on their platforms, “neither the F.B.I. nor the Department of Homeland Security was willing or able to share specific information about threats the tech companies should anticipate.”

Sadly, this type of impasse sounds all too familiar. Both authors served in the White House; one focused on counterterrorism, the other on technology policy. In our experience, getting the

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