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After Mueller revelations, how to protect election integrity in 2020


JUDY WOODRUFF: Amid the flurry of debate over
the report by Robert Mueller and his team, the special counsel was clear on one main
point: The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping
and systematic fashion. But, yesterday, President Trump’s son-in-law,
White House adviser Jared Kushner, dismissed the seriousness of all that. JARED KUSHNER, Senior Presidential Adviser:
And, quite frankly, the whole thing’s just a big distraction for the country. And you look at what Russia did, buying some
Facebook ads to try to sow dissent and do it — and it’s a terrible thing — but I think
the investigations and all of the speculation that’s happened for the last two years has
had a much harsher impact on our democracy than a couple of Facebook ads. JUDY WOODRUFF: In addition, a New York Times
article today reports that the Former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was discouraged
by the president’s chief of staff from discussing security for the 2020 election in front of
Mr. Trump. The White House denied this after the story
was published. But what about 2020? What has been done, and what more needs to
be done, to protect the integrity of our next election? Juliette Kayyem previously served in the U.S.
Department of Homeland Security. And Thomas Rid is a cybersecurity expert at
Johns Hopkins University who has closely studied Russian operations. Welcome to the “NewsHour” to both of you. Welcome back. Let me start with you, Juliette Kayyem. We hear Jared Kushner saying it was just a
few Facebook ads, but we see a much more serious picture being portrayed, painted in the Mueller
report. What do we know, in sum, about what the Russians
did in 2016? JULIETTE KAYYEM, Former Department of Homeland
Security Assistant Secretary: So, we know now that it started earlier than we previously
thought, as early as 2014, and that it was more systemic — or systematic and more targeted
than we had once known. What I mean it was systematic is that there
is a theory that Russia just threw a bunch of things at the wall and something stuck. And what we now know is that, both through
the Republican primary and then through the general, that the Russians had a sustained
and concerted effort to utilize social media, the advertisements, and other networks to
perpetuate essentially lies about other candidates or to support, by the end, one particular
candidate, Donald Trump. This is outside the hacking issue. On the hacking issue, the story is well-known,
and it’s documented in volume one, that those — the hacking that was initiated and started
by Russia, desired by Russia through WikiLeaks, was then sort of weaponized by the U.S. media
in terms of it repeating what was stolen, and then became a storyline that by the end
Hillary Clinton had to defend. JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Thomas Rid, how much of
this was underlined or in fact became new information in the Mueller report? THOMAS RID, Johns Hopkins School for Advanced
International Studies: The Mueller report in fact added very little genuinely new details
to the story of Russian interference that wasn’t already publicly known. In fact, I’m a little disappointed that we
didn’t learn more about the social media data specifically that the Mueller report cites. They seem to rely on publicly available data. But there’s an important thing that I think
the Mueller report is falling short on. The Mueller report named the IRA, the Internet
Research Agency, the trolling and the social media operation, first and also that’s where
the first indictment was published. But the leaking and the hacking — or, rather,
the hacking and then the leaking of Democratic files, especially John Podesta’s inbox, was
far more significant than the social media operation. So we risk overstating the effect of the social
media campaign. JUDY WOODRUFF: But you’re saying we need to
pay attention to all of it. Juliette Kayyem, what then do we know about
what the Russians are up to for 2020? JULIETTE KAYYEM: Well, you know, I believe
White Houses matter, and I believe that a White House that is committed to stopping
a foreign campaign against our democracy would be relevant. And so what we’re seeing, of course, is the
denials, the Giuliani statement this weekend that, you know, it’s OK to get this information
from the Russians. So I don’t want to put that aside, because
I do think that matters. But, on the tactical level, you do see a lot
of effort being made on the state and local level through the Department of Homeland Security
to protect elections and the election process, and then, of course, the kind of training
and efforts that are being done through campaigns, the Democratic Party, the Republican Party,
to protect their networks. Some of that is defense, you know, layered
security encryption. But some of it also has to be offense, which
is in this case naming and shaming it. We have to be quite public about when someone’s
stuff has been taken, say, e-mails. And then the final thing, which I mentioned
before, the media has to start having some standards by which they will determine whether
things stolen, not leaked, things stolen, will be utilized by them to amplify the sort
of criminal behavior by a foreign entity. JUDY WOODRUFF: That’s a message we need to
give very serious consideration to. Thomas Rid, what about for 2020? What do you see coming in 2020 that this country
has to be on guard against? THOMAS RID: Important, I would add to what
was just said that we learned in 2016 that some of the leaks were messed with. The very first leak, for example, contained
a document that was the Russian front account said, classified, came from Hillary Clinton’s
server and the State Department. All three statements were lies, were just
not backed up by the evidence. So we have to expect — and that’s the historical
norm — we have to expect forgeries. And don’t trust the leaks at face value. Very important message for journalists. But I would highlight a really serious risk
here. The biggest risk is a combination of two things. It’s a combination of the president of the
United States, if he is defeated, calling the legitimacy of the vote into question,
which he has announced multiple times already that he would be doing so, and, in combination,
a Russian operation that would provide some sort of credible evidence to this claim that
the system is rigged in the heat of the moment on election night and the following days to
sow doubt and create uncertainty in a very fragile moment, and thus endanger a peaceful
transition of power. JUDY WOODRUFF: Juliette Kayyem, just quickly,
I see you nodding. What gives you — what makes you believe that
that’s a concern? JULIETTE KAYYEM: Because the Russians know
the playbook. They know that the White House is not essentially
stopping or forcefully stopping the playbook. And they will change. And so one of my biggest concerns coming from
the — you know, both the cyber and physical security space is that the Russians will utilize
cyberattacks to have a physical impact on the voting process. So, in other words, how do you win Michigan? You depress 20,000 African-American votes
in Detroit, so, whether they, you know, sort of force traffic issues or signals go out,
or there’s a blackout. And so there’s what we call the Internet of
things, that you would have a cyberattack that would impact physical processes. For me, that’s my worry. The Russians are sophisticated enough to do
that. And they will change and modify, in light
of what we now know because of the Mueller report. JUDY WOODRUFF: Thomas Rid, that’s alarming
to even think about that. How can the U.S. be on guard against some
or all of this? THOMAS RID: One important aspect of being
on guard is to really look at the available evidence of what is happening in a very, very
sober and cool-headed way, which, is of course, very difficult because this conversation is
so highly politicized. But by overstating the threat — and we are
overstating the full spectrum of Russian influence operations in 2016 currently — by exaggerating
the threats, we are effectively making that operation more successful than it actually
was. And we risk, by overstating disinformation,
we risk engaging in disinformation. Now, of course, we still have to be on guard
and protect systems, and I support everything that we heard here. But I just think it’s really important to
be also aware of this risk of overstating the problem at the same time. JUDY WOODRUFF: Being clear-eyed and direct
about everything we hear and what we say. Thomas Rid, Juliette Kayyem, we thank you
both. We’re going to continue to follow this. JULIETTE KAYYEM: Thank you.

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