GOP Senator Flips Script On Russia Hack: ‘US Is Throwing Rocks In A Glass House’
At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on foreign cyberthreats to the U.S. held Thursday, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) said America has often interfered in elections held in other countries. And he also issued a stern warning: Now isn’t a time to overreact to interference in our own elections, Talking Points Memo reports.
Tillis may actually have a point
Tillis referred to research from Carnegie Mellon University which showed that the U.S. has been involved in 81 different foreign elections since World War II, and emphasized that Russia’s barging in on the party during the 2016 election wasn’t particularly unusual when it comes to world politics.
“In fact, when Russia apparently was trying to influence our election, we had the Israelis accusing us of trying to influence their election,” Tillis said.
According to this database collected by Dov H. Levin, a post-doctoral fellow in the Institute for Politics and Strategy at Carnegie Mellon University, Russia and the U.S. have been involved in all sorts of intervention-related shenanigans.
What are some of Levin’s findings? Well, this:
“Between 1946 and 2000, the U.S. and the Soviet Union/Russia have intervened in about one of every nine competitive national-level executive elections. Partisan electoral interventions have been found to have had significant effects on election results, frequently determining the identity of the winner (Levin, 2016). Overt interventions of this kind have also been found to have significant effects on the views of the target public toward the intervener (Corstange and Marinov, 2012)”
And while activities like hacking and using WikiLeaks to change the course of foreign elections are a relatively new phenomenon, it also points out that one-quarter of USSR/Russian interventions used these techniques. However, these types of activities have been going on long before advent of hacking or WikiLeaks.
In the months preceding West Germany’s 1980 elections, the Soviet Union’s KGB spread fake stories connecting one major candidate with far-right elements of the German intelligence services, Levin writes in The Washington Post. In the decade prior to this, the KGB leaked false documents that tied prominent figures from various parties in Pakistan to politically-motivated murders and to early opposition tied to the creation of Pakistan.
But the U.S. is also far from innocent, having influenced Japan’s 1958 election by giving the Liberal-Democratic Party damaging political intelligence on the Socialists, a major rival. Which the CIA obtained from paid informants inside the Socialist Party. And in the 1990 Nicaraguan elections, the U.S. leaked ruinous information on alleged Sandinista corruption and Swiss bank accounts. Then it siphoned off this information to German newspapers, something that the Nicaraguan opposition used to great effect.
Now, there’s the realm of cyberspace, and this gives credence to some of Tillis’ concerns. He warned that fomenting cyber conflicts without a full understanding of the nature of cyber weaponry could be risky.
“In cyber space, weapons systems get created in 24-hour cycles. You have no earthly idea whether or not you have a defensive capability against them. ‘So if you all of a sudden think, ‘Let’s go declare war in cyberspace,’ be careful what you ask for, because collectively there are 30 nations right now that have some level of cyber capability,” he said. “There are two or three that are very threatening, and in some cases probably have superior capabilities to us in terms of presences.”
Prior to his career in politics, Tillis worked as an IBM consultant. He added that his colleagues should get “educated” on the nature of cyber threats and the right ways to fight them. But while he strikes a chord here, Mother Jones notes that Tillis may have been trying to divert the conversation away from whether Russian intelligence subverted the election and helped Trump. Because even though Tillis has a point, his comments also take the focus away from where it needs to be: Whether Russian operatives were involved, and if they were, how deeply were they involved?
It’s one thing to blame Russia for allegedly hacking the 2016 election, but it and the U.S. have been interfering in elections at home and abroad for decades.
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images