Russian Hacking and the Presidential Election

Posted by on Jan 11, 2017 in Top Stories

Rumors about Russian involvement in the presidential election have been circulating as long ago as last summer. Now, however, there is more evidence that Russian hackers, under orders from President Vladimir Putin, interfered in the election by breaking into the computers of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and spreading propaganda and fake news stories.

New Reports

Last Thursday, top intelligence officials and a coalition of senators from both parties (led by Republican Senator John McCain) came together to assert that Russian hackers did indeed attempt to influence the outcome of the election. That same day, intelligence officials, led by James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, provided a highly classified briefing on the Russian attack to President Obama. On Friday, the same briefing was also given to President-elect Trump.

Detail view of some of the domes of the Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed (St. Basil's Cathedral) in Moscow's Red Square, Russia, illuminated against an evening sky. Credit: Philippe Jacquemart /EyeEm/Getty Images

Some of the domes of the Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed (St. Basil’s Cathedral) in Moscow’s Red Square, Russia. Credit: Philippe Jacquemart /EyeEm/Getty Images

Also last Friday, a declassified version of the report was released to the public, which did not contain the evidence included in the classified report but conveyed the same conclusions. In it, U.S. intelligence agencies revealed that the Russians had first hacked into the DNC servers as early as July 2015, and had maintained access ever since. The intelligence agencies also concluded that Putin himself ordered the cyberattack to cast doubt on the legitimacy of U.S. democratic elections, and later, to actively promote Trump to victory over Hillary Clinton.

Trump’s Response

In the weeks leading up to the election, President-elect Trump regularly dismissed the possibility of Russian interference in the campaign. He continued to deny Russian involvement even after President Obama imposed sanctions on Russia as punishment for the cyberattack. At the same time, Trump has regularly used Twitter to express his doubts about the U.S. intelligence agencies, while refusing to attend the majority of his daily intelligence briefings.

As recently as last Thursday evening, Trump tweeted that he did not believe the FBI’s findings that Russia was responsible for the hacks. After a two-hour briefing at Trump Tower the following day, the president-elect amended his position somewhat, acknowledging that Russia–though he blamed other nations as well, including China–was behind the hacks. However, Trump refused to admit that Putin’s goal was to help him win the election, and claimed that Russian interference had no influence whatsoever on the election results.

Restructuring Intelligence

While vice president-elect Mike Pence stated after the briefing that the new White House administration will take aggressive measures to protect the American people from any future cyberattacks, it remains to be seen how Trump will approach U.S. intelligence services when he takes office in late January. Later this month, Mr. Clapper will step down as the director of the nation’s sixteen intelligence agencies and will be replaced by Dan Coats, a retired conservative senator from Indiana. Reports indicate that President-elect Trump plans to restructure the system of national intelligence, as well as send more CIA staff to foreign posts overseas.

What Do You Think? Based on this article and others you have read, write a short paragraph in which you answer the following questions: Do reports of Russian hacking and cyberattacks change how you view Trump’s impending presidency? Do you think he won fairly? Why or why not? Perhaps more importantly, how will this influence the way you view voting and elections in the future? Do you think that Putin has succeeded in his goal of undermining our faith in our democratic election process? If so, how do you think that faith can be repaired?