Senator Lankford Gives Floor Speech on Importance of Securing US Elections
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WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) delivered a speech on the Senate floor today about Russia’s ongoing targeting of US elections, and the need for Congress to pass election security legislation. During the address, Lankford also summarized how Oklahoma dealt with Russia’s interference attempts on their voting system.
(1:31-3:15) In Oklahoma, in the 2016 cycle, the FBI and others began to discover that there were issues with the elections in some interference from what they at that time called “bad actors” in June of 2016. Later that summer, in August of 2016, the FBI issues a nationwide, what they call “flash alert,” to every state dealing with a threat from a “bad actor.” The Oklahoma state cyber command director received that warning, as did everyone else, but at that time the FBI didn’t share any details because no one in my state was given security clearance to be able to have that kind of classified conversation with the FBI. It wasn’t until September 22, 2017, a year and little bit later, that DHS actually notified my state and our state election authorities that we hadn’t just been targeted by a “bad actor,” we had been targeted by the Russians. A year later. Because no one had clearance and there was no one engaged. DHS told the Oklahoma Election Board secretary, Paul Ziriax, who was doing a great job, that there was evidence of the Russians conducting a surveillance scandal looking into the vulnerabilities in the state computer network, but they didn’t get into the election board computer network and they didn’t get into any of our equipment. They basically came and checked to see if the door was locked and they found out in Oklahoma, the door was locked. And the Russians could not get in. They didn’t penetrate into our system, though they tried. But it was a year after the elections before we were even notified that the Russians were trying to penetrate our system. A subtle flash warning is all that we received in the summer of 2016.
(4:33-5:18) At the same time that they were hacking into different systems and testing them out to see if they could get in, a different set of folks from the Russian group, the Internet Research Agency, they were trying to put out social media disinformation. 200,000 Oklahomans saw Facebook and Twitter posts that Russians put out as false information. They weren’t all on one candidate. They were on multiple candidates and multiple issues. Sometimes on Hillary Clinton, sometimes on Donald Trump, sometimes on Bernie Sanders, sometimes on Jill Stein. Sometimes on just ideological issues. But over 200,000 Oklahomans saw those posts from different Russians, not knowing they were Russian posts at all. They were Russians pretending to be Americans and then they were pushing that information out.
(5:19-6:11) So what can we learn from this? One is the most simple of those things, you shouldn’t believe everything you see on the internet. It is not always an American, it is not always who they post to be, and it is not always true. It should be the most basic information that we should learn about what’s happening on the internet and what’s online, including Facebook and Twitter. But the other lesson that we need to learn is a little more complicated. We have to be able to have better communication between the federal government and states, a better cybersecurity system, and the ability to be able to audit that. That is why Senator Klobuchar and I have worked for months on a piece of legislation called the Secure Elections Act. That piece of legislation has worked its way through every state looking at it and their election authorities. We’ve worked it through multiple committee hearings. In fact, recently just in the last month, two different hearings with the Rules Committee. It is now ready to be marked up and finalized to try to bring to this body.
(8:30-9:01) I have zero doubt the Russians tried to destabilize our nation in 2016 by attacking the core of our democracy. Anyone who believes they will not do it again has missed the basic information that is how day, after day, after day, in our intelligence briefings. The Russians have done it the first time. They showed the rest of the world the lesson in what could be done. It could be the North Koreans next time. It could be the Iranians next time. It could be a domestic activist group next time. We should learn that lesson, close that vulnerability, and make sure that we protect our systems in the days ahead.