Senator Lankford Gives Update on Russian Interference With US Elections
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WASHINGTON, DC –Senator James Lankford (R-OK) spoke on the Senate floor yesterday about Russia’s interference with US elections, Russia’s use of troll farms to create propaganda that promotes a greater divide in US current events on social media, and the need for states to protect their voting systems.
I’d like to update this body…about Russia and their interference with our elections and how they are trying to engage with us in a way that much Europe has seen for decades—we just haven’t seen in the United States. Yesterday Senator Burr and Senator Warner stood up and gave an update on where we are in the status of the investigation from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. They walked through some of the statistics. We have done over 100 interviews, we’ve got 4,000 pages of transcripts from those interviews. We have 100,000 documents that we have gone through so far and there are more to go. We’ve completed some areas where we have interviewed as many people as we could possible interview in that area and in other areas, as we do one interview, they quote a couple other people, we chase down those individuals and it continues to lead. So parts of it are not done, but some of it is. Several aspects are clear from the investigation, though it is not complete and we will have a final document at the end. Some of the areas that are clear are that Russia was trying to use active measures to engage us in our last election. That part is very, very clear. The question comes from many people: Why would they do that? Well quite frankly, this is the way that Russia worked for a long time. This asymmetric warfare that they do where they try to constantly interfere in other people’s thoughts and conflicts. They have done it across Europe for a long time and now they are doing it here. Some of this is a product of Russia having very a weak economy and try to find some way to bluster themselves up.
In the last two-years, the Russian ruble has dropped 40 percent in value. As they struggled with low oil prices, as they struggle in the way that they function their government with the oligarchs, a select group of people that can succeed, and other folks continue to struggle around the country. As they struggle under that system where they have fake elections…, they try to reach out to other countries and try to interfere in ours to try to make us look like them. We have a free press, a free press that they try to engage in. We have free speech that they don’t have in Russia. We have freedom of religion, which they don’t have in Russia. We have the ability to have disputes on political issues, they clearly don’t have that in Russia. If you disagree with the leadership in Russia, you will end up in prison. If you disagree with the leadership in the United States, you’ll end up on TV. It is very different to be in an open society like ours. They reach in at what we consider to be a strength and try to be able to make it a weakness. So, we’re going to try to get the facts out on this. Over the next several months as we work through this process to try to expose what Russia is really trying to do.
They use some overt propaganda methods, like sputnik radio and RT, as it is on multiple cable channels and satellite channels all around the United States. They’re Russian propaganda. They are their version of the facts and they’re designed to place discord in our nation. That’s what they do. There are also ways that are not quite as overt. They reach in on social media platform, they have trolls in Russia that have thousands of fake accounts on Facebook and Twitter and other social media apps. They use those thousands of apps to search around any news in America and find a place where there’s conflict in America and then try to ramp up the volume. Now to be clear, the Russians are not creating conflict in America. We have plenty of it. We disagree on issues, again it’s our free society. When we disagree on something, we disagree on it publicly and sometimes loud. That’s who we are as Americans. We try to work things out sometimes at a high volume.
But just like two kids fighting on the playground in the fifth grade. Remember those two kids who started a fight and their friends watched them and someone on the other side of the playground yelled: ‘Fight!’ and the crowd started forming. The Russians are not in the fight, they aren’t even in the fight. They are the kids on the far side of the playground trying to get more people to run to the fight. They are not starting the Twitter wars and the battles, but they look at where America is divided. Issues, like race, where those troll farms will try to find areas where we disagree on areas of race and reach in and try to amplify the volume on that by repeating accusations, by trying to be even more hostile online, to try to stoke disunity in our nation. It’s important that we see that not every time you see something with a high number of hashtag accounts that go up, it’s not always Americans pushing that up. Occasionally it’s an outside body trying to raise the volume and make a conflict look even bigger than it is in America because they are into selling discord. That’s what they love to do.
That’s what the rest of the nations have seen them do and that’s why we should be very clear that Russia is trying to sew chaos into us. They have reached into our election systems…. the FBI notified 21 different states that during the last election season the Russians tried to interfere in their election process as a state. That doesn’t mean they did interfere. That means they reached in and tested systems, that means they tried to go into voter database and see if they could access a voter database to see who was registered to vote. They tried to get into a Secretary of State’s office in a local state to see if they could figure out how they do elections. They tried to reach into systems…to see what voting machines they used…. They tried to find out how they could do elections and to learn as much as they could about that process and to see how far they could get.
Through all of our work, we have yet to find a single vote that was changed. The Russians didn’t get into voting machines, they didn’t alter the election in any way, but they were probing through multiple states to see what they could get access to. It’s my belief that they are preparing for something else. They are trying to see what they could get access to in the last election to see if they could get back into it and do even more in the next election. We should be aware of that. We should be aware of not only their propaganda but should also aware that they are after your elections to see if they can find a way, at the end of the election, to make us doubt the outcomes.
So, what can we do about that? Well, I would give you several ideas. One of them is we need to protect the primacy of states running elections. There it is absolutely no need for the federal government to go to states and take over their election process—it is a constitutional protection…but every state is also responsible to do it.
Of the 21 states that I noted, I did say to everyone here, the Russians tried to engage in 21 states, they couldn’t get to a single voting machine. The states are doing a good job, but they need help. There’s no reason that the state of Oklahoma should have to work alone to be able to protect itself from the Russians trying to invade it in the cyber attack. They need allies to come along with them but the state should be able to run the system. There should be more sharing between the state and the federal government. There should be an opportunity for the federal government to be able to say to a state, earlier than ten months after the election, that, ‘hey, you’re being hacked’. For the FBI to notify states a couple of weeks ago that they were hacked in the 2016 election is a little late. When it’s occurring, we need to have that engagement between state IT folks and between federal IT folks to have that conversation when it is ongoing so the state can take protective measures as it is occurring.
We need to have that cooperation between states and the federal government. We need to be able to help states with a way that they can audit their systems after the election is over. Every election when it occurs, you should be able to check that machines running the election actually were not hacked. In Oklahoma, we have optical scanners. You fill out a paper ballot and they run it through the optical scanner. At the end of the election time, if there is a question about the optical scanner, they can go back to paper and do a hand count. We can audit the elections in that process. It is a safe system we have set up in our state. Every state does it differently, but I encourage every state to have a system where they can audit the system. This year it was the Russians trying to engage in the election…but it could be any number of groups that could try to interfere in our process. It is basic commence to say that we have a system of the election you can actually audit.
Perhaps Russia in the days ahead hopes that our nation will be more like theirs. We won’t. We’re the longest constitutional republic in the world. We still lead the world. We still put out our values about free speech, free press, freedom of religion, opportunities for individuals to actually engage and have a conflict with their own government and to be able to disagree publicly on things. We still can disagree with each other but we need to be aware that they want to turn us into them, but I would hope for the sake of the Russian people in the days ahead they can be more like us. Ronald Reagan told a story about a friend of his that had a conversation with a Cuban refugee, fleeing from communism and oppression in Cuba in 1964. He said that his friend…said if we lose freedom here there’s no place to escape to. This is the last stand on earth. We’re still a role model for the rest of the world. And as much conflict as we have with each other, we’re still a role model. I have no issue disagreeing at times with people on this floor. We can have our disagreements. But I don’t want the Russians to interfere in our disagreements. They can keep their business over there, and in the days ahead, we’ll continue to expose the things that they are doing so that in the days ahead they can back off and go bug someone else because we’re akin to what they are doing.