Show an ad over header. AMP

The missed cyber opportunity in the Senate Intel report on Russia

The Senate Intelligence Committee detailed shocking new revelations about the 2016 Trump campaign's dealings with Russia in the landmark final volume of its report on the matter, but it missed an opportunity to recommend cybersecurity fixes for today’s campaigns and parties — perhaps by design.

Why it matters: The DNC and RNC could be considered a type of “critical infrastructure,” because without them and the presidential and congressional fundraising they facilitate, U.S. politics as we know it wouldn’t exist. But because they fall outside the government’s protective cybersecurity remit, they are also uniquely vulnerable to outside threats.


  • As the 2016 hacking of John Podesta’s emails showed, the personal devices and accounts of major politicos are also major targets for foreign intelligence services.

Where it stands: The Senate Intelligence report, out last week, lays out key recommendations for preventing 2016-style meddling from happening. They include:

  • Strengthening enforcement of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
  • Reorienting the U.S. intelligence community to prioritize gathering information on foreign electoral interference schemes.
  • Having the FBI do more to brief candidates and campaigns on foreign counterintelligence threats.
  • Making the FBI develop more robust systems for alerting nongovernment actors — like political campaigns — that have been hacked.

Yes, but: The 966-page report does not go into detail about what these campaigns, or the larger party infrastructure supporting them, should do to prevent cyber intrusions from foreign governments.

  • It also doesn’t provide a broader framework for how (or if) federal agencies like Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, charged with securing domestic networks, could coordinate or cooperate with political parties on basic cybersecurity.

This is no small matter. As the report makes clear, the hack and leak of materials from the Democratic National Committee was the single most effective prong of Russia’s 2016 active measures campaign.

  • The report does detail the DNC’s 2016 cybersecurity practices, but these were plainly insufficient to prevent catastrophe.
  • “The DNC's IT staff did not understand the nature of the threat it faced, despite multiple entreaties from an FBI agent at the Washington Field Office,” says the report.
  • The FBI also failed to sufficiently convey the seriousness of the breach to the DNC, and it did not follow up with DNC executives when its warnings seemed to go unheeded, the report concludes.
  • “The uniquely political nature of the DNC as an organization and the FBI's approach towards victims of cyber attacks led to miscommunications and missed opportunities to thwart, or eradicate, the Russian cyber actors from the DNC systems,” says the report.

Between the lines: The paucity of material on how to protect political party infrastructure from malign cyber activity may not be an oversight.

  • After all, the committee is composed of Republicans and Democrats. Shining a bright light on the cybersecurity practices — and deficiencies — of the RNC and DNC today would force lawmakers to scrutinize the political machinery at the heart of their own parties. That’s a tough sell in hyperpartisan Washington.
  • Meanwhile, it's unclear if the 2020 political campaigns have fully absorbed the cybersecurity lessons of 2016. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden only hired a chief information security officer in July — over a month after formally clinching his party’s nomination.

The bottom line: Empowering the government to help encourage best practices within political parties’ networks, or even legislating minimum cybersecurity standards for these entities, could help avoid a repeat of 2016-type interference.

  • But government actors have to want these changes first, and the Senate Intelligence report suggests they’re not happening.

In photos: Fortified capitols see only small protests

Small groups of protesters rallied outside fortified statehouses over the weekend ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration Wednesday.

The big picture: Some rallies attracted armed members of far-right extremist groups but there were no reports of clashes, as had been feared. The National Guard and law enforcement outnumbered demonstrators, as officials took security steps to avoid a repeat of the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection, per AP.

Keep reading... Show less

Trump to issue at least 100 pardons and commutations before leaving office

President Trump plans to issue at least 100 pardons and commutations on his final full day in office Tuesday, sources familiar with the matter told Axios.

Why it matters: This is a continuation of the president's controversial December pardon spree that saw full pardons granted to more than two dozen people — including former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, longtime associate Roger Stone and Charles Kushner, the father of Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner.

  • Those set to be pardoned before Trump exits the White House will be a mix of criminal justice and people connected to the president, the sources said.
  • CNN first reported this news.

Go deeper: Convicts turn to D.C. fixers for Trump pardons

Schumer's m(aj)ority checklist

Capitalizing on the Georgia runoffs, achieving a 50-50 Senate and launching an impeachment trial are weighty to-dos for getting Joe Biden's administration up and running on Day One.

What to watch: A blend of ceremonies, hearings and legal timelines will come into play on Tuesday and Wednesday so Chuck Schumer can actually claim the Senate majority and propel the new president's agenda.

Keep reading... Show less

Members of House and Senate fear for their safety away from a hardened Capitol

This is how bad things are for elected officials and others working in a post-insurrection Congress:

  • Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.) said she had a panic attack while grocery shopping back home.
  • Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said police may also have to be at his constituent meetings.
  • Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) told a podcaster he brought a gun to his office on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6 because he anticipated trouble with the proceedings that day.
Keep reading... Show less

Off the rails: Trump mainlines election conspiracies as Oval Office descends into madness

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 3: The conspiracy goes too far. Trump's outside lawyers plot to seize voting machines and spin theories about communists, spies and computer software.

President Trump was sitting in the Oval Office one day in late November when a call came in from lawyer Sidney Powell. "Ugh, Sidney," he told the staff in the room before he picked up. "She's getting a little crazy, isn't she? She's really gotta tone it down. No one believes this stuff. It's just too much."

Keep reading... Show less

Convicts turn to D.C. fixers as they seek pardons from President Trump

A flood of convicted criminals has retained lobbyists since November’s presidential election to press President Trump for pardons or commutations before he leaves office.

What we're hearing: Among them is Nickie Lum Davis, a Hawaii woman who pleaded guilty last year to abetting an illicit foreign lobbying campaign on behalf of fugitive Malaysian businessman Jho Low. Trump confidante Matt Schlapp also is seeking a pardon for a former biopharmaceutical executive convicted of fraud less than two months ago.

Keep reading... Show less

Conservatives plot to punish the tech industry for deplatforming Trump

Capitol Hill conservatives are gaming out a multi-front war on the tech industry as retribution for deplatforming President Trump and others on the right, congressional sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: When you're in the minority, you figure out who you are as a party. With Republicans now looking up at the Democrats, they're searching for a unifying issue. This is one, at least for now.

Keep reading... Show less

Kevin McCarthy warned members to not call out colleagues by name, citing potential political violence

Members of the House Republican Conference ignored leader Kevin McCarthy last week when he warned them against criticizing colleagues by name based on intelligence that doing so could trigger more political violence.

Why it matters: McCarthy made clear that name-dropping opponents, instead of spelling out complaints in more general terms, can put a literal target on a politician, especially with tensions so high following the events of Jan. 6.

Keep reading... Show less

Insights

mail-copy

Get Goodhumans in your inbox

Most Read

More Stories